Historic health summit in PNG

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Goroka, Papua New Guinea

At Goroka Airport in Papua New Guinea there’s a large billboard for Milo. The slogan? “Milo Givim Yu Strong.” The best feature? The gleaming clean, healthy tooth prominently displayed in the advertisement. There are a lot of good things you could imply about Milo, but a force for promoting dental health seems a little counterintuitive. And Milo’s just one of the many highly refined foods advertised heavily in this mountaintop town. 

We believe our health message needs to be loudly re-proclaimed. There has never been a time when it has been more relevant.

It shouldn’t be surprising that with an increase in the wide availability of high calorie, highly refined foods, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart attack and stroke are on the increase in PNG. There’s also a threat from HIV/AIDS—particularly as men leave their families to work in mining sites and cities far from home.

Historically the Adventist Church’s emphasis in PNG has been on health problems such as maternal health, infant mortality, infectious diseases and injuries. However, as PNG develops, the Church is working to also address the new lifestyle disease threat. 

As part of this effort, the Church organised a health summit at three sites—Port Moresby, Goroka and Sonoma, near Rabaul—last month. The concept was to provide practical training on health education, with the goal that every Adventist church, school and clinic will become a centre for health education. More than 1700 Adventist pastors, teachers and health workers were invited to the summit. In addition, some professionals from outside the Adventist community attended.

Many who presented at the summit are at the top of their field, including doctors Oscar and Eugenia Giordano, who lead an Adventist global effort in South Africa to stem the HIV/AIDS pandemic. There were also a number of presenters from PNG who added their expertise both on substantive issues and contextualising programs and methods to the various cultures in PNG. 

“This health summit was directly related to the ‘health promoting churches/schools/clinics and hospitals initiative’ that’s currently being rolled out Pacific-wide by the South Pacific Division’s Health team,” said Pastor Kevin Price, director of the team. “We are determined to address the double disease burden that comes from communicable and lifestyle diseases that so many are experiencing in the Pacific. We believe our health message needs to be loudly re-proclaimed. There has never been a time when it has been more relevant.”

The General Conference  awarded Sibilla Johnson the Health Ministries Medal of Distinction for her lifetime of service in health ministry. Mrs Johnson—director of Adventist Health Ministries in Victoria—received the award at a ceremony at Sonoma College during the Health Summit, with retiring world Church Health Ministries director, Dr Allan Handysides, and director elect, Dr Peter Landless, conducting the presentation. It was fitting the ceremony took place in PNG, as it was in that country that Mrs Johnson began her health ministry work in 1982.

 

(Right to left: Pastor Kevin Price, Dr Allan Handysides, Dr Chester Kuma, Mrs Johnson, Dr Peter Landless and Pastor Leigh Rice)

The Church has long had a commitment to improving the health of the people of PNG. It currently operates 31 clinics there—many of them very remote—and recently acquired Komo Hospital.