The custom-built, mobile x-ray screening van is now a major new weapon in the fight against the spread of Tuberculosis (TB) and Multi Drug-Resistant TB (MDR-TB) in Papua New Guinea (Tom Perry / World Bank)
The innovative mobile screening van
To combat this challenge, ‘the TB van’ – a custom-built, all-terrain, mobile X-ray screening van, complete with a giant photograph of PNG’s most famous rugby player, Ase Boas, and the slogan ‘let’s kick TB out of PNG’ – hit the road with the mission to test the entire population of Daru for TB.
“In Daru the hospital is quite far and most of the people are not going to the hospital until they are really sick,” said Natalie Fimbuvu, the X-ray technician on board the van. “We help them by providing services at their doorstep.”
Natalie is a vital part of the 10-person health team that has so far screened around 6500 people across Daru in a little under a year. Natalie calmly and expertly guides each and every person through the two-minute X-ray process inside the van.
“It’s the first time many of these people have had an X-ray, so many are nervous,” she says. “I’m looking for abnormalities in the chest region, especially the lungs. For a normal X-ray it’s usually black – both lungs – but if there are white patches in between the lungs, then there’s an abnormality there.”
After a screening, Natalie provides a score out of 100 for each person that rates the likelihood of infection. Low-score patients are free to go without further action, but those with a higher score are required to produce a saliva sample for further analysis. If a TB infection is identified, patients immediately begin an intensive treatment program at the hospital, followed by the dedicated TB treatment sites close to their homes.
“We live a bit of a distance away from the clinic,” says Simona Vanaria, a Bamu community resident. “Sometimes when we are sick, we are scared to come to the hospital. [But] I’m happy that I came with all my family to check and the results are negative.”
Working together to kick TB out of PNG
Sandra Wanakrah, WHO’s Coordinator for TB Screening in Daru, is working alongside Natalie in the fight against TB. She says there is a strong camaraderie among the team: that this is important, life-saving work.
“We know it’s a big fight but if we can all stand together and do as much as possible, to the best of our potential, I’m sure we can do it. We can kick TB out of PNG,” says Sandra.
The Emergency TB Project is funded by the World Bank, through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the world’s most in-need countries, alongside the Australian Government and PNG’s Department of Health, together with partners including the Burnet Institute, WHO and World Vision.