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As the virus spreads the PNG health system collapses

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 12 March 2021


Since I wrote last week about the rising incidence of Covid-19 in our closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, the position has worsened dramatically. Between 50 and 100 new cases are reported daily.

And as I have pointed out the escalation comes despite a very low testing level.

While the virus is being detected in many provinces, including Fly River which adjoins Australia in the Torres Strait, about half the new daily cases are in the nation's overcrowded capital, Port Moresby.

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The result already is that the city's public hospital is overcrowded, with other essential services apart from dealing with the virus – including assisting cancer patients and mothers awaiting child birth among them – have been delayed or cancelled.

The PNG Government has finally been forced to lift its game when it comes to addressing the virus – but only in a marginal way. It simply lacks the funds, and the resources – including doctors – to fully respond.

In a country of over eight million people there are just 500 doctors and about 4,000 nurses. Tragically, a significant number of nurses and other health workers have contracted the virus, reducing already inadequate resources.

And the crisis is not just confined to the capital's health system. It is rapidly spreading nationwide including into rural health centres.

The PNG government has said it will have secured around 300,000 vaccines by the end of April. But in a population of over 8 million the impact of that will frankly be inadequate

The crisis has already started to have an impact in Cairns, and the Torres Strait. Cairns hospital has had to impose restrictions on services as it treats at least six fly in fly out workers from the OK Tedi Mine in the Fly River Province. These workers qualified for transportation to Australia because they are domiciled in the Cairns area.

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The cascading collapse of the PNG health system is not just a problem for the PNG Government. It presents a significant challenge for Australia.

Clearly Australia's capacity to supply PNG with vaccines is limited – and the promises the government made to deliver the vaccines to the South Pacific may well be difficult to meet at least in the immediate future.

As I wrote last week it cannot be a "vaccines alone" solution.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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