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June 17, 2021
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Dr. Alex Peawi, Angau’s Head of Emergency, driven by a mission to save lives

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While many of his colleagues have gone into private practice, Dr. Alex Peawi chose to stay in the public health system.

Dr. Peawi is Head of Angau Hospital’s Accidents and Emergency Department. It is one of the busiest in the country. He is also the Regional Emergency Physician for Momase and the Highlands – a job that requires him to be constantly on call both for Lae and eight other centres.

“It IS really tiring. Sometimes you go home and then you have to come back at night to stabilise someone. But it is a good feeling.”

Dr. Peawi is one of a few doctors in the country practicing emergency medicine. His motivation is quite simple. He is driven by a mission to save lives within the first hour of the patient’s arrival at the hospital.

In 2014, he was motivated to join Angau’s Emergency Department after he saw a story about a criminal attack on tourists and porters along the Black Cat Trail in Morobe. The attack resulted in the deaths of two young men from Salamaua. Several others were severely injured.

“I really wanted to see if I could do something. Many people who go to a hospital, die within the first hour. We call it the ‘golden hour.’ My job is to try to save those lives within that time.”

Alex Peawi was born in Kagua, Southern Highlands. His ideals of service, determination and discipline came from his father, Peawi Kopa, a former village councilor, who told him that education was vital for success.

“I remember a long time ago when I was little, I was in a store with him. We were eating flour balls when a well dressed man came into the shop and bought a lot of other food. I was watching him the whole time.

“On our way back, my father said, ‘you know, his mother wasn’t born like that. Education is the way to go, if you want to be like that.”

At the time it didn’t matter. Alex Peawi went to primary school. Everyday, waking up early to make the four hour return trip to the nearest primary school. His father’s discipline was instilled in him in his early years in the simplest of tasks.

“My father would wake up in the morning and have a full bath every day. There was no ‘half bath’ business. You had to submit to the cold water.”

When time came for university, his choice of medicine was also largely influenced by his father.

“I wanted to be a lawyer. But my dad didn’t like lawyers. There weren’t many doctors where I came from and, being a strong Christian, he wanted me to help the sick and the needy.”

Dr. Peawi has few regrets.

“I’ve received job offers from private hospitals and from companies in the oil and gas sector overseas. But what sort of legacy will I leave behind?”

Building that legacy has also meant training new doctors. A process that is painstakingly slow. Since coming to Angau, Dr. Peawi has been training two doctors through a five year program. Another is currently undergoing further training at the UPNG medical faculty.

“Lae is the last place people want to come to. Many other doctors want to go to places like Enga where the provincial government pays bonuses. So those are the pull factors that we are dealing with.”

With new developments happening at Angau, Dr. Peawi is contributing to the design of the new emergency department.

“Papua New Guineans deserve the best. Patients shouldn’t be sleeping on the floor or sitting outside in the sun and rain. We should have the best services for our people.

“That is my dream.”

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