If I were to ask you what obstacles you would encounter while getting your sick child to the nearest health centre, what would they be?
The answers would vary depending on where you live.
Someone living in an urban area might face a different problem than the one living in a remote region.
But the most painful experiences would be told by those living in the remote and isolated parts of this great nation.
Recently I was travelling on a PMV bus from Lae to Madang.
The bus was half empty. There were only eight of us.
There was a dead silence as we drove through the Makham plains, which is always the longest leg of the journey, along the Lae-Madang Highway.
Usually, the boss crew would tell jokes to ease the boredom encountered by passengers during such long trips. But that time, it was different.
At around 6:30 in the evening we reached Walium station.
I looked out of the window and saw a large group of men, women and children standing outside of the Walium Health Centre.
Walium station is in Usino-Bundi District of Madang province. The district consists of mountainous areas, rivers and flatland.
They were waiting for PMV trucks to go home.
The driver pulled over and we stopped to help them.
A woman, possibly in her thirties, hopped into the bus sat next to me.
In her arms was a small boy who appeared to be around 7-years-old.
He was asleep and laid comfortably on her mother’s chest with his arm folded.
I was curious so I asked the woman where she and her son were heading so very late afternoon.
She looked at me and said, “ pikinini meri, mipla kam long hausik ya na nogat kar na mipla wet long morning yet kam inap tudak”.
I was filled with sympathy when I heard that. I could almost feel my heart sink.
She did not go on explaining but I could sense she had a long story to tell and that she would tell me more about it as we travelled the final leg of journey into Madang town.
For the next few minutes I didn’t want to say a thing.
At one instant, I looked around in the bus hoping to see how the other passengers were doing, those that we had stopped to help.
Most of them were elderly women and men. Only a few were young men and children mostly below the age of eight.
I returned my glance to the woman sitting next to me and gently asked her about her name.
“Mama wanem name blong yu”, I asked politely.
“ Mi Catherine na name blong man blong me em Issac”, she replied.
Catherine is from Iguruwe in the Usino-Bundi.
It cost K2 to travel from her village to the Walium Health Centre.
She continued to explained that her 7-year-old son had malaria and she and the other women went to the clinic in the morning to get treatment.
And they have been waiting for a PMV to return to their village since morning.
As we continued our journey, the place has pretty much darkened.
It was chilly. I could see Catherine’s son digging deeper into her arms looking for warmth.
He must be very ill, I thought.
“Na pikinini blong you kisim marasin na sut tu,” I asked Catherine knowing too well what her answer would be.
She replied, “Nogat… mipla go na nogat Mala 1 marasin tasol sister tok bai Fonde bai m kisim kam givim mitla. Mi bai sanap lo rot na wetim em. Nau em givim mitupla panadol tasol”.
Just as Catherine was about to continue, another elderly woman interrupted our conversation.
“Pikinini mipla go na nogat marasin na sut. Wanem marasin stap long hausik we sista lukim osem em bai ken halivim mipla… em givim mipla na mipla kam bek long ples.
I remained silent and listened to her talking.
As she continued, I slowly began to piece together everything that they have been telling me about.
The Walium Health Clinic is one of the few clinics that served the people of Usino-Bundi District.
Most of the people are from remote parts of the District who go there to get treatment because it is much closer to travel there rather than to the Modilon General Hospital in Madang town.
And also, it costs less.
It will only cost them K2 to travel from Iguruwe or Kawawar market to Walium station where the health clinic is located.
Otherwise, travelling all the way to Madang town would cost them K10.
I was infuriated by Catherine’s story.
She is one of many other ordinary Papua New Guineans who struggles to access basic services.
There is something the United Nations and other humanitarian organisations call the Basic Human Rights.
The world is always unfair and our government continuously fails deliver to the needs of ordinary people like Catherine and her son.