Caring inside and outside

In the Papua New Guinean highlands, in Hela Province, Tari Hospital and the MSF-run Family Support Centre combine to provide one-stop care for victims of sexual and intimate partner violence. 

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Irish Nurse Aoife Ni Mhurchu © Jodi Bieber.

Adequate and timely medical and psychological care is crucial to help minimise the consequences of violence. But sexual violence and rape stay largely unreported due to stigma. To promote the availability of care, MSF’s teams also highlight that it is confidential, and free.

Nurse Aoife Ni Mhurchu has been working in Accident & Emergency, caring for the strong women of Tari.

“The women come here in the safe knowledge that they have this free, essential service here, that it is confidential, absolutely confidential; they know that they’re safe here, they know that we look after them, inside and outside. We will look after their medical and surgical needs in Accident & Emergency if they have been badly beaten as well, if they have any limbs fractured, if they have any broken bones, any lacerations that need suturing—we will look after all of that.

Often they come in in shock—sometimes they can’t even talk to us. Sometimes they may have been left for dead somewhere, and they will either have been found by somebody else and brought in, or even sometimes they’re left at the hospital gate here. So initially we assess them and we look after their medical and surgical needs and as soon as possible; then we refer them to the Family Support Centre, where we will also look after their counselling. We encourage them to keep coming back for counselling, in order to actually heal on the inside as well. These women are very resilient, and they do come, and the awareness is growing. And they come of their own free will, and they all benefit from it.

I have met very strong women here in Tari. Whether it’s through their life experience, through everything that they’ve had to go through, through poverty, through the hard work that they do. They’re very strong farmers and they also suffer a lot in their lifetimes. You can really see a sisterhood here, between the women on the wards, even if they don’t know each other, or even if they’re from different wantoks [kin networks], you can really see that they look after each other very well. They come in here after they’ve been beaten, after being raped, with horrific injuries, and still, a short time later, you see them grinning, chatting away, very grateful to us for looking after them. They’re very resilient women.”