There have been many people who have made a significant impact to women and child health in PNG. Indeed the work is continuing. When I think of child health in PNG, to me the child health is synonymous with late Prof. John Biddulph (1935-1998). Many of you may have heard about him but I think most young Papua New Guineans do not know his contribution to child health in PNG. It is therefore only appropriate that I write a short history about this great man for young Papua New Guineans to read and know what he did for child health in PNG.
Robert Arthur John Biddulph was born in 1935. His father was a Government administrator in Nigeria, Gambia and West Africa where he spent his early years with his two sisters before moving back to England during the Battle of Britain. His mother was a nurse. The family migrated to Sydney, Australia in 1952 where he later studied medicine. In 1956 he went to Port Moresby as a 5th year medical student and spent 6 weeks working in Samarai. This trip had a strong impression on him that he decided to come back to PNG and work as a doctor in 1961 that proved be his life’s work.
Work In Papua New Guinea.
His first posting was in Lae where he was posted to the children’s ward. In 1962 he was invited to be the paediatrician in the newly established medical college in Port Moresby. He quickly realised that dehydration from diarrhoea was a major killer of children and with few medical officers, he realised the only way was to train nurses and medical orderlies. He instituted a standard treatment protocol for dehydrated children at the Port Moresby General Hospital which dramatically reduced the case fatality rate. This approach was soon widely accepted by hospitals throughout the country.
In 1966 the Health Department published a treatment book guideline for medical officers in which Prof. Biddulph wrote a paediatrics section. Treatment protocols were also made into posters and put in every children’s ward in the country and distributed to medical students, medical orderlies and nurses. In 1974 the first edition of a pocket book for treatment of common childhood diseases was produced. This manual has been produced into a text book and its now available in PDF file format and can be freely downloaded.
In 1977 Prof. Biddulph was instrument in the Government passing the ‘The Baby Feeds Supply (Control) Act’. This law made feeding bottles and dummies available on medical prescription only. It was not until 1981 that the World Health Assembly endorsed the World Health Organisation Code in Infant Feeding.
In 1974 He was appointed the Foundation Professor of Paediatrics in the newly established Faculty of Medicine and was the paediatric professor until his retirement in 1990. He was also instrumental in establishing the Post-Basic Paediatric Nurses Training Program. This program has now evolved into the Bachelor of Nursing Program at UPNG. PNG nurses are now able to treat common childhood infections. He also helped establish the Diploma in Child Health and the Master of Medicine in Child Health in 1975. The children’s ward in Port Moresby General Hospital is named after him.
He was president of the PNG Medical Society 1979-80 and secretary from 1974-90. He was consulted upon on many occasions by UNESCO and WHO to most South East Asian and Pacific countries but his heart was always with PNG. This showed when on one occasion he declined an invitation to South America in order to go to PNG because of his commitment to students.
This short history will not be complete without a mention of his wife Mary. Mary was a nurse educator and obtained her masters degree in nursing education from Boston University, USA. She was the head of nursing in PNG and wrote teaching manuals for teaching health and hygiene to students in PNG.
Prof. John Biddulph retired in 1990 and returned to Australia where he was appointed Emeritus Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Queensland, a post he held with distinction till his death.
In 1997 he was awarded the Plaque of Honor as “Outstanding Paediatrician for Asia”. The citation on the plaque reads – “For his outstanding contributions to paediatric education, practise and research in Papua New Guinea, for serving as Chief Advisor to the Minister of Health on matters relating to child health, for pioneering in the training of paediatricians and for strengthening primary health care programs throughout the country, which has led to the betterment of child health”.
We will not forget you.