Interview with Dr Saira Hussain
20 April 2023
Last September, Dr Saira Hussain - a Specialist Anaesthetist - volunteered her time to join a PNG Angels surgical mission to Port Moresby General Hospital. Upon her return we asked Dr Hussain about her experience.
Q: What motivated you to join the PNG Angels mission in September last year?
SH: Having previously been involved with a medical charity tackling maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa I was well aware of the benefit that overseas outreach medical teams can have in countries that have struggling healthcare systems, made all the more pertinent because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Our team that went in September have worked together for some years now and I knew that we would all be able to support each other as well as provide support to the local medics.
SH: PNG is a country of contradictions – it is breathtakingly beautiful and abundant in natural resources, with coffee and turmeric plants growing alongside the roads, but it is also overwhelmed with poverty, grossly underfunded healthcare and welfare systems and a growing number of displaced peoples due to civil unrest. Port Moresby General Hospital was a pleasant surprise – a large sprawling concrete collaboration of buildings with a never ending plethora of people milling around or sitting and waiting patiently for doctors to attend the hospital. Some of the patients we treated travelled from the other end of the country to see us – not an easy or inexpensive feat, often sponsored by other charities. The wards were crowded and humid but with a prevailing sense of calm and patience as patients and relatives waited their turn to be attended to. We were warmly welcomed into the operating theatres and the staff made every effort to make our time there as easy as possible, despite the difficulties they have with lack of resources and equipment. I think we, as a team, were thoroughly impressed at the complex cases that the local medics and nurses manage at this hospital without the luxury of the drugs and technology that we take for granted here in Australia.
Q: What might become of some of the patients if they are unable to access the urgent medical procedures provided by the PNG Angels team?
SH: Based on the people we were able to help – without the kind of specialised neurosurgical input that PNG Angels can provide, people will lose the ability to work and therefore provide for their families due to visual loss, loss of mobility or general debilitation associated with chronic pain. They will also suffer due to lack of palliative services and availability of analgesia. Some will die too young. Many of the procedures PNG Angels can offer help with are often simple fixes with huge benefits to the individual and their family.
Q: What do you believe is the lasting impact of these philanthropic missions?
SH: For me – the chance to teach and educate. The specialist medical colleges in Australia all play a part providing online educational material, zoom classes and support with professional exams for overseas doctors but actually going into the working environment of the Port Moresby General specialists and working with them ‘hands on” is invaluable. That human connection is priceless. I felt that I learned as much from them as they from me.
Q: How could additional funding expand the work undertaken by the PNG Angels charity?
SH: A regular educational seminar twice a year for learning and refreshing of skills would be invaluable. The doctors on the ground have a never ending supply of patients and if we can provide external ongoing educational support this would alleviate the pressure on their limited time to produce such programmes.
If you are a qualified medical professional and would like further information on volunteering for a PNG mission, please register your interest below.