Trachoma screening in Papanya and Mutitjulu

australia

Papanya is a community 3-4 hours to the Northwest of Alice Springs, straight north of Kings Canyon and Uluru (Ayers Rock).Mutitjulu is a community immediately adjacent to Uluru. During a Trachoma screening visit I accompanied some nurses on as a volunteer, I had the opportunity to experience these desolate outposts as few might ever be invited to visit.
As the last developed country to be effected by Trachoma, a bacterial infection on the eyelid which can cause blindness in old age after a lifetime of repeated infections, the nurses in at the Center for Disease control are working tirelessly to inform, screen, and treat the public. You might ask why Australia is effected by this disease were other developed countries are not…. There are two major reasons. 1. Australia retains large populations which live remotely in places where water is scarce and therefore it is easy to understand why preventative measures like consistently bathing, particularly face washing is not a priority 2. Folks living in remote communities, primarily the aboriginal demographic, have a very close nit culture and tend to have large numbers of residence living in one 3 bedroom family home. Often times babies are passed from Grandma to Grandpa to Mom and so on and this close proximity allows the germ to travel well.
I am happy to report in the two communities I was able to visit, first Mutitjulu and second Papanya, as well as several communities which were screened shortly before my arrival, all numbers of the afflicted have dropped dramatically.
The nurses I worked with are beyond qualified, diligent, and persistent which are necessary skills when attempting to locate, screen and treat 4-12 year old children in these communities. It can be difficult to track the children down for a few reasons. Because the Ananju (Western desert Language Speakers) people have such strong roots as nomads, previously subsisting off the land which is short of resources in the desert and thus begs constant re-location, the move from community to community often. This includes changing schools. living with aunties as guardians, and sometimes changing their names. In addition, names must be changed if a member of the community passes away because that persons name can not be mentioned for sometimes years after their death. One can imagine that this type of lifestyle would make it difficult for a health care provider to rock up to a school and expect to find the child in question at school let alone in the community. I find their social habits and culture absolutely fascinating and must admit in some idealistic way I really relate, at the moment feeling like a bit of a nomad and not having health care as a high priority as demonstrated by my un-treated broken finger…
I arrived yesterday in the community of Santa Tereza now transitioning from a health care volunteer to designing and leading numerous recreation programs in the community over the next few weeks. I am filled with anticipation and gratitude for this experience. Unfortunately, it is quite inappropriate to take photographs in these communities and I have little in the way of images to show for my last few weeks, but I will post what I was able to scrape together.
I love and miss my family and all the new friends I have met on this journey.

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