Dili, Timor-Leste, January 8, 2015 – The journey from the remote town of Covalima to Fatumea Sub-district near the border between Timor-Leste and Indonesia (West Timor), can only be made via a steep, narrow and winding road which, despite only being 38 kilometers (23.6 miles), can take more than two hours.
In spite of this, people in this secluded part of the country have access to basic health services, with a community health center located in Fatumea. The center has two doctors, two nurses, a midwife and a pharmacist who passionately serve more than 3,000 people in the area.
Maria Mendonca, a mother of six living in Fatumea, has witnessed the significant changes Timor-Leste has experienced since independence, including the creation of infrastructure where previously there was none.
“Healthcare standards here have improved over the last decade – now, we have health facilities, doctors, nurses and midwives in our village. We don’t need to go to the district hospital for a medical checkup or normal treatment anymore,” she said.
Difficult access to medical supplies in remote areas
In spite of Timor-Leste’s achievements in improving basic health services, access to medication remains a significant issue in some areas, particularly in remote areas without hospitals and where medications and supplies are only available at health posts or community health centers.
Responsibility for the distribution of drugs and medical supplies in the country falls under the Ministry of Health, through an autonomous medical store called Serviço Autónomo de Medicamentos e Equipamentos de Saúde (SAMES). The Ministry manages the procurement and quality inspection of these medications and supplies.
Pharmacy Assistant Santina Relvas has worked at the community health center in Fatumea Sub-district since 2012, ensuring that patients receive the most appropriate treatments, correct dosages, counselling on side effects and drug interactions, and making sure that the center always has enough stock of various drugs available.
“Drugs are the lifeblood of health care services. Ensuring the availability of drug stocks and quality management of health centers and other health facilities are of tremendous importance to the delivery of good service to community,” she said.
Santina acknowledges the challenges faced by local healthcare workers, including problems with the current distribution system, on which centers like hers rely to maintain adequate drug stocks.
“Sometimes, we run out of medicines. Many factors contribute to this such as increasing numbers of patients, and items not being able to reach us because of bad roads and lack of transportation,” she said.