With over 40 years of nursing experience and a heart-warming smile, Sr Ase has become a familiar face across Daru Island, Western Province, working with communities on the frontline of the emergency response to tuberculosis (TB).
As the Emergency TB Response Nursing Officer at Daru General Hospital, Sr Ase’s role is to visit households where people have been newly diagnosed with TB and investigate if other family members are also showing signs and symptoms.
The approach is called ‘contact tracing’ and involves monitoring patients after exposure to ensure they get proper care and treatment, and to prevent the further spread of TB.
“When I heard about the emergency response, I was genuinely concerned for my family’s well-being. It was 10 years after I had retired, but I decided to apply for work again at the hospital,” she recalled.
“I’m a nurse by profession, but specialise in contact tracing. This involves a lot of community engagement, where we visit the homes of TB patients to investigate if there are other members of the household that may have TB.”
In addition to checking on the welfare of recently diagnosed TB patients, the visits are also an opportunity to educate families and communities about TB and prevent the spread of the deadly disease. Patients at high risk of TB are encouraged to go for further testing, diagnosis and counselling at Daru General Hospital or one of five Daru Accelerated Response for TB sites across the island.
Those who test positive receive a chest x-ray and sputum test, and commence treatment immediately once tests are confirmed. Children under five years of age who test negative are also put on infant preventative therapy to safeguard them from future infection.
“The challenge is that contact response times are often slow. Sometimes we have to visit at least three times before other family members are actually convinced to go to the hospital for testing and counselling,” Sr Ase explained.
Originally from Misima Island in Milne Bay Province, Sr Ase graduated with a certificate in nursing in 1978 from the former Papua Medical College, now the University of Papua New Guinea’s School of Medicine and Health Science. After working at urban health clinics in Port Moresby for a couple of years, she then moved to Daru to work at the hospital.
It was there she met her husband of 35 years and raised four daughters before he passed away in early 2015. After retiring in 2006, Sr Ase returned to work when the TB emergency response broke out in Daru in 2016.
Daru has one of the highest TB and multi-resistant TB rates per capita in the country. Contact tracing is part of a holistic approach to tackle TB in Daru, including early identification and diagnosis, strengthened case management and infection control.
The Australian government is supporting the emergency response to TB in Daru in partnership with the National Department of Health, Daru General Hospital, World Health Organization, World Bank, Burnet Institute and World Vision.
(Sr Miriam Ase, right, and community health worker, Tag Damelong, on their way to visiting the home of a TB-infected girl and her family in Daru)