|Country||Papua New Guinea|
Driving along the narrow road through jungle and overgrown gardens, one is suddenly confronted by a collection of neat, grey brick houses, with red trimmings among a well planned garden setting and hibiscus-lined paths. To the right of the road there is a huge mountain wall reaching almost vertically to a plateau, overgrown by tall tress and leafy vines. Beyond the houses there is a jungle plain extending to the coast. This is Asuar Leprosy Hospital, an annexe of Yaguam Lutheran Mission Hospital near Madang.
Many years ago there stood a village at the site of the present hospital. Tragedy came in the form of a smallpox epidemic which exterminated its population and left the area shunned by all as place of evil spirits and death. No wonder there was little resistance when the Mission offered to buy the land for a hospital. And what is more, it is not entirely inappropriate that there now stands a Hospital whose function it is to help in the eradication of another scourge of mankind, Leprosy.
Asuar has been Mission land for about ten years now. It was then a swampy land and difficult to get to. Initially a road had to be built and a channel dug to drain the waters into the nearby Gogol River. Money was not available to start a building programme at this time. But it was not long after that the Swedish Lutheran Church made this possible with several generous grants.
The building programme was started by Mr Bill Schultz. Locally manufactured cement brick were used and have stood the test of time so far in spite of initially critical suggestions that earthquake may cause damage. The advantages are that the houses are cool and that maintainance is minimal. Mr Louis Winter and Mr Lester Rohrlach continued the building program and it was in May of this year that the simple but attractive church was dedicated, bringing to a climax the years of building.
Asuar was opened nearly four years ago, when all leprosy patients were transferred from Yagaum Hospital. The new Hospital accommodated over a hundred patients. This really opened up a new era in the treatment of Leprosy in the Madang area. Not long after the new patients were transferred Sister Ursula Johst from Germany moved into her new house and took over the care of the patients, Subsequently, towards the end of her next furlough she spent several weeks in India where she learned much about this disease under the guidance of experts in the field of Leprosy. The treatment of Leprosy in Asuar is now up-to-date and compares very favourably with any similar institution in the world.
At present Sister Ursula Johst is still in charge. She has, however, a very capable assistant, Mr Joseph Son, a New Guinean from Graged Island, who has been associated with this work for many years. He takes over the care of the Hospital whenever Sister Johst is on holidays or on furlough. Doctors from Yaguam Hospital, about four miles way, make weekly visits. A government Surgeon, Mr Clezy, an expert in the treatment of Leprosy both medically and surgically, does the intricate tendon transfer operations on the paralysed hands and feet of the patients and gives advice with regard to special problems that frequently arise. Such operations make it possible to use a previously useless limb again.
Leprosy, an almost unknown disease in most parts of Australia, is still met very frequently in New Guinea. One is constantly on the lookout for this crippling and disfiguring disease so that early diagnosis may lead to treatment and cure. Unfortunately it is rrae to see the patient at the stage where only a pale skin patch which lacks sensation evidences the disease. People are very ill before the necessity for help is apparent to them. It is common to see a patient with paralysed hands and feet, with huge smelly ulcers on the soles of the feet and with crippled fingers, and with a puffy old face, looking forty years instead of twenty. People know the disease with its consequences and yet they hesitate to come early, hoping that their suspicions are proved wrong by time. They also remember that not very long ago a diagnosis of leprosy meant life-long “banishment” to a settlement far away on New Hanover Island where there was no return to home and family. Now we have good treatment and more hospitals, as well as putpatient treatment – and yet they come late.
Most patients are very happy at Asuar. There is a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere when one visits there. Many people keep themselves occupied by making various handicrafts. One old man makes beautiful canoes, another carves very attractive coconut shell ornaments. There is also a woodwork class conducted by a teacher from the nearby Baitabag technical school. There is a school with a full-time teacher, Miss Margaret Kloster, who teaches not only the children but also the adults to read and write.
Caring for the chronically ill is traditionally a part of the work of a medical mission. And therefore Asuar Hospital is an integral section of our medical work in New Guinea.