In 2017-2018, several consecutive humanitarian missions were dispatched to Papua New Guinea at the request of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in collaboration with the NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief NGO.
Aiming to reach as many people as possible in an area with poor transportation infrastructure, the team sailed around the island and performed surgeries on residents of remote settlements.
“We deployed a team of two ophthalmologists and three nurses who are currently performing cataract surgeries on a ship belonging to an Australian humanitarian NGO, explained Sheba HDRC Director, Prof. Elhanan Bar-On. They will spend two weeks sailing around Papua New Guinea, docking near villages and towns where patients will come aboard and receive treatment.”
Led by Sheba’s Dr. Eva Planter, a vitreo retinal specialist, the team met patients in Papua New Guinea who lost their ability to see, primarily due to cataracts that had been neglected for years. They performed over 80 eye surgeries, restoring their eyesight and providing many with a new lease on life.
Hard but satisfying days in Papua New Guinea
A few days after the mission in Papua New Guinea began, Dr. Planter observed: “It’s been a hard but satisfying day onboard the ship. It started with the post-cataract surgery patients from yesterday. They came early in the morning, and I can’t wait to take off their eye patches and have them see once again for the first time in years.
This was followed by about a dozen more cataract surgeries for visually impaired persons under difficult weather and sea conditions. Knowing that our time here is short and we have to make the most of it made us overcome the harsh conditions and continue operating. We’re trying to make a difference, and I hope it’s not just a drop in the sea. It’s been a hard and sometimes complicated mission, both physically and mentally. Still, we overcame the challenges and helped a lot of people.”
Dr. Ori Platner, Dr. Eva Platner’s husband, joined the team in Papua New Guinea to offer his services as an experienced dentist, providing onboard dental care and treatments. The team also offered community medicine and rehabilitation on the ship and onshore.
“For big disasters needing a medical response, the IDF usually dispatches a big field hospital, deploying 100-150 people for about two weeks,” explains Prof. Bar-On. “What we do at Sheba is somewhat different, as the Center also responds to more minor crises.”