Kapuna Hospital sits in one of the most remote places on the planet. Close to the south coast of Papua New Guinea’s Gulf Province, it is only accessible by a gruelling boat trip. This is where Engineers Australia member Jens Grigull AMIEAust spent several months in 2017.
“I was involved in the project to upgrade the power network at Kapuna,” says Grigull, “and I am happy to say that after five years, the project is finished.”
The project in question was the total overhaul of the power supply for the hospital. Before Grigull arrived, the hospital was operating on only a few hours of power per day, supplied by diesel generators.
“The network they had was obviously very limiting for the hospital. The generators they had were very old, and because of the location of the hospital, it was difficult to get fuel.
“My task was to survey what was there, and work with the community there to find a solution that worked for them,” says Grigull.
“The best solution for communities like Kapuna might not necessarily be what we would do in Australia,” he continues. “Because it is so remote, every screw, every nail, has to be planned. You can’t just go to a hardware shop and buy more.”
An international team of engineers
With support from a crew of Canadian linesmen, Grigull reinforced the existing power poles and lines, and started to plan for the new power network.
“We had to start from the beginning. I was the first engineer to start work on the project. I made some initial drawings, and helped erect buildings to house the solar power plant.”
Grigull’s next task was to create a plan for the solar power network that future volunteers and engineers could implement.
“Once we had improved the power lines, I created a plan to allow the hospital to incorporate solar into their network. I had the specifications for the solar power plant, so I made sure that anything I planned would work in the future,” explains Grigull.
“In many ways I had to take a step back and learn everything again. A solution that would work in Australia would not necessarily work for a remote community,” he says. “So you have to think about what works for them, and what is sustainable for the future.”
Problems beyond power
Issues with power supply are not the only challenges that workers face in Kapuna hospital.
“In my free time I repaired ventilators, operating theatre lights and blood pressure monitors. The problem is spare parts – they are hard to get in this remote area. I saw a lot of medical equipment out of order because of burned out light bulbs or dead batteries. The equipment is there but it can’t be used.”
As part of his ongoing work to support hospitals across Papua New Guinea, Grigull also plans to repair older Zeiss microscopes.
“The problem is mould in the optical system. There is no business in Papua New Guinea that can clean the mould from the lenses. There are many microscopes out of order in Papua New Guinea because of this problem,” he explains.
Kapuna hospital was founded by the London Missionary Society in 1949 with money gifted by an anonymous donor. It started off as a series of four thatch-roofed ‘wards’, connected by a verandah. Now it is a five-ward hospital with operating theatres and an antenatal clinic, and a dedicated staff of 21 health professionals.
The benefits of giving back
“In Australia we are very blessed with good infrastructure like airports, hospitals and highways,” says Grigull. “I’ve worked in Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and Cambodia. And when I come back to Australia I think I am in another world.”
“You understand the real value of good engineering and an advanced health system. Why not commit a few weeks to help countries who are not so fortunate? I’d like to encourage others to work in other countries and you will treasure the things we have in Australia when you come back.”
“Papua New Guinea needs civil engineers,” explains Grigull. “They need roads, they need buildings, airports, highways. Many remote communities have no income – there’s no power, there are no roads. $20 worth of nails can make the difference between being able to construct a building or not.”
Grigull’s expertise clearly benefited the community, but what about Grigull himself?
“I was only a small part of the overall project, but when I heard that they had finished the work and that my input had been useful for them, it made me very happy,” he explains.
“When the hospital was founded, they were working with gas lamps, and now with the help of the whole community, and from engineers around the world, they have 24-hour solar power. I think that’s beautiful.”
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