I stumbled across Dr Hip at Maluk Timor when Maun Aga asked me to take a photo of Dr Hip collecting his rural doctor’s bag.
These high-quality kits contain sturdy, essential equipment heavily subsidized by generous donors with a heart for Rural GPs.
Everyone I am meeting have great stories to tell, so I asked Dr Hip if we could interview him.
He is a slight man, but confident and clearly passionate about his work. Here is his story…
Doctor or Priest?
I was born in Suku (Village) Leimea-Leten in Ermera Municipality 33 years ago. When I was a child, I always thought I wanted to be a Priest, but my second choice was to be a Doctor.
One day when I was visiting a relative in the Community Health Centre (CHC) in Atsabe (the Capital of Ermera Municipality), and I was watching the doctors tending to the patients. I saw them helping people, checking on them and tending to their needs.
There and then I decided I wanted to be a Doctor. I wanted to help people; to help my village; to help my community. So I started to study as a Doctor at UNTL (University of Timor-Leste) in 2008 and graduated in 2014 – most of my lecturers were Cuban and taught us all about medicine, prevention and many other things.
My greatest interest and the area I wanted to focus on after graduating was Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
Life in the Health Post
When I finished at university, I went back to my village and worked in the local Health Post. It was small and remote; it was just me and the security guard.
The Health Post was 18 km from the Atsabe CHC. In Timor-Leste, it can take forever to get anywhere – the roads were very bad- if people needed to go to the CHC, they usually walked the 18 km. Leimea-Leten was better off in some ways than other posts, as it had a newly graduated Doctor- there was no nurse or midwife – just me and the security guard.
Life in the Health Post was very difficult, and I found that what I learnt at university, was very different in reality, particularly in a remote area.
At the first birth I had to attend as a doctor at the Health Post and I had to deliver twins. There were complications; as one of the babies wasn’t facing the right direction – it was coming out shoulder first.
I didn’t know what to do, but it was just me (and the security guard and the mothers family) and we just had to deliver the baby. I took a deep breath, and with patience and perseverance – we delivered two healthy babies – it was a little scary.
It was a hard job; I was on-call 24 hours a day for two years. I was often called out in the middle of the night to help with an emergency. But Ermera is an interesting District – many people didn’t want to visit the hospital or CHC; and often not even the Health Post – even for pregnancies. Ermera has one of the lowest vaccine rates in the country and even until now, many people don’t believe that COVID exists (it is not the only district with this thinking in Timor-Leste – there are a few others).
People believe in traditional medicine and use this often. Part of my job was also health promotion and public health– and to know why people are even less reluctant to come to see a Doctor. Later I went to work at the CHC in Atsabe and was the Family Health Care Coordinator.
Joining the Maluk Timor Post Graduate Diploma of Family Medicine.
Some of my friends did the Diploma and encouraged me to apply, so I passed the assessment and exams and became a student with 23 others for the fourth intake for this Diploma. It was divided into two sections; Foundation (18 months) – which included an English Course, Medical Practice at the National Hospital in Dili (HNGV) and tutorials; the second part was the post Graduate Diploma (18 months).
In the mountains, in the Health Post, it was very difficult. We had many patients and I had to refer many of them to the CHC or the National Hospital – I just didn’t have the knowledge or experience in how to treat them. But since I have graduated, have greater confidence now, and I don’t have to refer the mild or medium cases – as I have experience and knowledge and importantly a greater confidence. What is really nice, because of this, patients have more trust in me. The other great outcome is I have bigger and stronger networks with the other students and it is good that we can talk about issues and help each other.
I am now the Family Health Care Coordinator and Family Planning Coordinator at Atsabe CHC – and the Health Post where I started now has one nurse and the Security Guard (the same one ).
We laughed about how much experience the guard must have – Dr Hip said he was really lucky to have him as he was very helpful – he was a great assistant.
The final thing is I would like to say is a very special thanks to Maluk Timor, RACS (Royal Australasian College of Surgeons) and UNTL –I now have more training and more experience to help my community and my village – and in turn we can reduce sickness and deaths, and really help people.