HEALTH WORKER TRAINING
There is little point having access to antivenoms if the doctors and health workers who need to be able to administer it in an emergency situation, lack the proper education and vocational training to be able to adequately assess, diagnose and treat patients who have been bitten by venomous snakes.
In 2004 we introduced a National Snakebite Training Course after recognising that many health workers lacked the basic clinical skills to adequately manage these emergencies. The philosophy behind the course was that the then declining prognosis of snakebite patients could be reversed if key issues, including health worker and community education and training, were addressed with situationally relevant education and training.
The inaugural course was conducted at the UPNG School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Port Moresby in September 2004. A textbook “Venomous bites and stings in Papua New Guinea: a guide for health workers and doctors” was published in 2005 with financial assistance from Oil Search Limited. Taught by a volunteer faculty of physicians and snakebite specialists from Australia and PNG the course was aimed at rural Health Extension Officers (HEO’s), Community Health Workers (CHW’s) and Nursing Officers (NO’s), as well as hospital-based doctors and NO’s. Annual courses were conducted in Port Moresby and Madang, and the program expanded to Alotau and Popondetta in 2007. A one day Intensive Care Management of Snakebite Patients Course was started in 2007 to cater to the training and education needs of emergency and intensive care doctors at Port Moresby General Hospital.
Since it began, the teaching faculty has undergone a distinct shift, with fewer expatriate volunteers running the training in favour of an increasing number of well-trained Papua New Guinean doctors, and the aim is to eventually localise the entire program. Smaller training courses that concentrate on core skills, such as Basic Life Support are also now being run at District level in southern PNG.
Today the course is operated through the Charles Campbell Toxinology Centre. In 2010 the Australian government lent support to the program by funding the purchase of life support training manikins, and providing financial support to meet course needs until the end of 2012. In 2016 the course is undergoing an upgrade in-line with new information we have on how to best manage snakebite cases as a result of CCTCs research. The new curriculum will be taught for the first time in early 2017.
In parallel CCTC also commits considerable time to community level education about snakebite awareness, prevention and first aid training at village level. Focused mainly in Central Province where snakebite incidence is the highest, our staff regularly visit communities to talk about the problem, distribute first aid training leaflets, and advise people on how they can reduce their risk of snakebite through the wearing of covered footwear and some simple avoidance strategies.
In late 2016 we plan to launch a “STAY SNAKE SAFE” campaign on social media and through posters and leaflets to be distributed through health centres to families throughout Central Province. By raising awareness of the dangers of snakebite, and strategies for preventing or at least minimising the risks of being bitten, we hope to reduce the burden of injury.