The 24-year-old radiographer travels around Daru Island in her bright red truck, featuring the slogan “Let’s kick TB out of PNG – Act now”, to conduct free chest screenings in the fight against tuberculosis (TB).
After graduating with a Bachelor of Medical Imaging Science degree in 2017, Mahabi joined the screening initiative this year following a residency at Port Moresby General Hospital and Daru General Hospital respectively.
“I had no intention of pursuing a career such as this, but I applied on a whim,” she recalled. “But now that I’m making a difference in people’s lives, I’m happy that I chose this field of work. It is challenging, different and interesting. On a busy day, we can screen from 20 to 60 people. We always encourage those who come for testing to tell other family members to come for testing as well.”
Her role on board the mobile van is key to tackling the deadly disease through early identification and diagnosis. The state-of-the-art digital x-ray machine inside the van screens for all types of TB, including drug-resistant strains.
Daru is one of the highest TB burden areas in Papua New Guinea. The island was declared a ‘hot-spot’ in 2014, with one in 10 TB cases diagnosed as being multi-drug resistant. Daru detects around 500 new TB cases every year, which is about 3 percent of its 17,000 population.
“It is a challenging place to work in, you have to love what you do in order to look past the disadvantages and dangers of working on the frontline of such an epidemic, especially on an island that’s as isolated and under-developed as Daru,” Mahabi explains.
“I’ve only been here for a few months, but I can see how important the TB van is for the island, and how important it is to make sure we screen as many people as possible.”
The mobile TB van was launched in late January 2018 and is managed by World Vision as part of the Papua New Guinea National Department of Health’s emergency response program in Daru, which is supported by the Australian government, World Health Organization, Global Fund and World Bank.
(Grace Mahabi in front of a diagnostic screen inside the TB van)