Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies: On the road with Kerryanne Tokmun

Ashley Sievwright

15 May, 2018

Image: Kerryanne Tokmun in the HMHB office, and taking blood out in the field.

One of the enduring legacies of Burnet’s landmark research project, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the training and employment of local staff in Kokopo, East New Britain.

Since the project’s inception four years ago, more than 25 local research staff have been trained in conducting research questionnaires, taking blood specimens, performing point-of-care haemoglobin and malaria diagnostic tests, and taking accurate baby measurements - including head circumference, body length and weight. Kerryanne Tokmun is one of them.

Meet Kerryanne Tokmun

Ms Tokmun has been with Burnet Institute for two years as a HMHB Research Officer, and lives in Kokopo with her husband and young family.

5.30am: My day starts very early. I have three boys, an eight and a nine-year-old, and a baby boy who is one year and seven months old.

I have to balance everything - my work, my children and our home. I know this is not unusual, lots of mothers do this.

6.45am: We have someone to look after the baby during the day, as both me and my husband work. I leave the baby with her, then I catch two PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles) to get to work. It’s our local bus. The first trip is to drop my sons off at school, the second one is to come to work.

Image: Ms Tokmun with her family

7.30am: We pack the vehicle straight away (at Burnet’s Office in Kokopo) and get out on the road for our first visit.

We take scales, a device to measure the length of the baby, a haemoglobin measuring apparatus called the HemoCue, and questionnaires for the mothers and babies.

We are very quick, because usually there’s a lot of driving to do.

7.45am: Each day is slightly different and we’re never sure whether the mothers and babies we need to see will be there when we get there.

It’s hard to make appointments with the mums because we can’t contact them a lot of the time.

I think it’s to do with electricity - the charging of their phones. Most of the mums are in villages where there’s no electricity, so they can’t charge their phones.

10.30am: Our first visit today was at a village close by. We did have a baby here six months back who was undernourished. It’s mostly malnutrition we see with the babies. And it’s heartbreaking to see them, they’re so thin. But we advised the mother that she needed to take the baby to the clinic and she did.

Today we weighed the baby and he was fine. That makes me very happy.

Donate to support research into Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies in PNG.

Image: Kerryanne’s colleague Elizabeth Walep weighs a healthy baby.

12.00pm: It’s great that we had a positive visit this morning. But it’s not always like that. In this second village we’re visiting - a while back that is - we had a mother who died.

When we saw her, she was very sick. She had an enlarged spleen and had lost a lot of weight. So when I did the interview, I did my best to encourage her to go and get medication.

A couple of weeks later, we went to see another mum close by, so I just asked: How is she, how is that one? And she said: Oh, she passed away.

It can be very hard for us when we hear about mothers or babies passing away.

1.00pm: This afternoon we are heading out to a third village an hour or so away. The mums that live far away, they are always happy to see us. They know the dates of the visit. When they see the car they know that we are there and they will tell their babies, “Oh, your friends are here. They will check you.”

They are always happy for us to see them.

2.00pm: Well, this happens sometimes. We get bogged. It took us a long time to get out. And the road ahead is all mud. So today we have no choice - we are going to turn back and try again another day.

Image: Getting bogged is an occupational hazard in these parts of PNG.

4.30pm: When we come back from the field, we have to return to the lab, leave our samples and report to the office again. Then we leave for home.

5.30pm: At home there are the usual things to do - cooking, bathing my baby, helping my boys with their homework, or fixing their uniform for the next day’s school, or their schoolbag. All these things I have to do before I go to bed. My husband helps as much as he can.

9.00pm: I have such passion for this research. I see many mothers and babies and the difficulties they go through. But at the end of a long day, when I go to bed, I feel I have done something good, going out in the field, checking and testing mothers and babies, telling mothers if we see signs of infections.

I feel that what I do is helping my countrywomen.

Donate to support research into Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies in PNG.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Doctor Michelle Scoullar

HMHB Principal Investigator; PhD candidate




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