Dr Anferida Monteiro Fernandes, or “Dr Ella” as she is known, works in a remote health post in the subdistrict of Los Palos at the far eastern end of Timor-Leste.
“I am the only doctor at my health post… from Dili by bus it’s about 8 hours.”
Having grown up in Los Palos, Dr Ella studied medicine in Dili under the guidance of Cuban educators. This meant also learning Spanish, one of the six languages she now speaks. Graduating in 2014, she was initially unable to find work in the government health services and instead worked under a team of international doctors at Bairo Pite Clinic.
“All the doctors – senior doctors, and very experienced doctors from other countries – really help[ed] me,” she says, giving her valuable clinical experience. During her time there she also met German vascular surgeon, Dr Everard Braganza, who trained her in the use of diagnostic ultrasound.
“At the moment I am the only one doctor in Los Palos who do[es] the ultrasound scan for every patient.” Dr Ella carries around her donated ultrasound unit and is in high demand across her entire district.
Dr Ella draws on her childhood experiences for motivation, remembering a time when the fledgling nation of Timor-Leste was unable to provide health care to her own people: “I am so grateful to become a doctor because before, when I was young, we couldn’t afford for a doctor… or medicines for the patient… but at the moment I can do it for my patients.”
Working alone in an isolated health post with little or no equipment, Dr Ella was an enthusiastic recipient of one of Maluk Timor’s Doctor’s Bags, which contain essential medical equipment and supplies. This has enabled her to use her skills to maximal effect in the community.
In late 2018 she became Timor-Leste’s first graduate of the University of Sydney’s Child Health Program, which she studied by correspondence over a two-year period. “I am so thankful to Maluk Timor and Dr Jeremy, Dr Bethany and Dr Luke – they really helped me during my study.”
Dr Jeremy Beckett, Maluk Timor’s in-country Director, describes Dr Ella as one of the finest doctors he’s met. “Her dedication and resilience to overcome the most extraordinary obstacles is inspirational. She’s already a pioneer in health in this country, and we know she’s going to have a national impact.”
Dr Ella recognises the support of Maluk Timor and many others in her journey. “Thank you for Maluk Timor for supporting me. It is really useful for me, for better diagnosis for my patients.”