PNG nurse taking on challenge to improve care for children with cancer in PNG’s first Paediatric Oncology Ward

‘I am a nurse specialising in childhood cancer in Port Moresby. Earlier this year I spent three months training with the Children’s Cancer Centre at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

Julie Melo spent three months training with the Children’s Cancer Centre so she could return to PNG and provide the best care for child cancer patients.

‘I spent time in the wards, in day oncology, and travelled to meet with parent groups all across Victoria. I worked closely with nurse coordinators, allied health staff, and oncologists. My training had a special focus on supporting the families of children going through chemotherapy.

‘While paediatric cancer is not one of Papua New Guinea’s leading causes of hospital admission, it is becoming increasingly common. Young patients with chronic conditions such as cancer require long-term care and support. So building trusting relationships between patients and health workers is important.

‘When I started caring for children who have cancer, we worked in the general paediatric ward. Every Thursday was chemotherapy day; I would wheel the patients out of the ward and into adult day oncology to receive treatment.

‘Last year, we opened the country’s first dedicated paediatric oncology ward.

‘Having greater ward space for children to receive treatment should greatly increase our ability to provide good quality care.

‘As the only hospital looking after children with cancer, we get referrals from all over the country. Most of these children present with leukaemia, Burkitt lymphoma, Wilms’ tumour, or retinoblastoma.

‘We can test for leukaemia, but we need the full range of tests and more staff to properly, and quickly, diagnose the cancer. Here in Melbourne, all the tests are available, and it’s so fast, they can diagnose leukaemia in a day. In PNG, we have to wait for weeks, or sometimes months.

‘Now that I have returned home, I want to become the first dedicated nurse coordinator for our child oncology ward. I want to focus on building strong relationships with parents of patients.

‘Providing good quality care is about more than just diagnosing illness and administering drugs.

‘Social support for patients and their families is important for making sure our patients are able to attend hospital, and receive the best care.

‘I am hopeful that I can help bring about these changes and have a positive effect on our patients.

Julie Melo’s training at the Melbourne Children’s was supported by funding from the R E Ross Trust Regional Child Health Fellowship Program, administered by the Centre for International Child Health, and coordinated with the help of the Children’s Cancer Centre (CCC). Special thanks to Mary McGowan, CCC Patient Liaison, for her extra care and support. 

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