Flying into Ghizo is breathtaking. The Dash-8 airplane banks over turquoise waters full of shallow reefs and then lands hard onto a coral and grass runway. The airport is located on its own island and is just a short boat ride away from Ghizo Island. Gizo town is a frontier town. The streets are dusty and lined with buildings that have western style front porches. There are many small businesses such as restaurants, marine supplies and grocery stores in Gizo town. With more than 50% of the Solomon Island population less than 15 years of age it is not uncommon to see children playing soccer in a field next to a church or diving into the waters off the main wharf.
Gizo Hospital is the provincial hospital for the western province of Solomon Islands. It is the second largest hospital in the country, second only to the National Referral Hospital in Honiara on Guadalcanal. It serves over 200,000 people living on islands such as Ghizo, Simbo, Ranongga, Vella La Vella, Kolimbangara, Choisel, Shortlands and the Morovo and Roviana Lagoon areas. Two provincial doctors are on staff at the hospital but there are no surgeons, obstetricians or anesthesia doctors.
The hospital was damaged by the tsunami that followed an earthquake in 2007. It is still functioning but the buildings and walkways are dilapidated. The many wooden buildings that make up the hospital are built up on stilts. Each of the wards are connected by a covered walk way. There is mold on the walls and many of the floor planks are rotted and missing. There is trash everywhere. The smells of Gizo hospital range from the pungent odor of urine to the mouth watering smell of food prepared by Mary, the hospital’s resident “cooking lady.” Visits to the pediatric, male or female wards where between 8 and 12 people share a fly infested room reveal an assortment of maladies such as diabetic foot infections, malaria and congestive heart failure.There is no cardiologist, intensive care unit nor ventilator at Gizo Hospital or for that matter anywhere else in the Solomon Islands. Across the street a new hospital is under construction. It will be seismically sound, have two stories with a ramp between them and it will have an ICU.
A few hours after arriving in Ghizo our team of doctors and nurses went right to work setting up clinics in the newly built kit-home buildings adjacent to the hospital. The surgical team unpacked and organized our surgical equipment and went straight to work. The operating theater is large but old. It is under utilized as there is no surgeon on staff. But it is air conditioned and in the hot, humid weather of Solomon Islands this luxury is most welcome. Our surgical team has evaluated and booked orthopedic cases such as tendon repairs and revisions of amputations. The general surgery cases include hernia repairs, thyroid masses, hysterectomies and ovarian mass excisions.
On Monday the medical team will hold a visiting clinic on Simbo Island just west of Ghizo Island. There is much anticipation of their visit. Dr Laura Nicholson will be writing the blog about their trip.