Readers of On Line Opinion will be aware of my often expressed concern at the total inability of the "failed" Papua New Guinea health system to manage the nation's many health challenges resulting in higher infant mortality and the growth of diseases such as typhoid, malaria and even polio..
I have also expressed more than just concern that the spread of the Cov-19 pandemic, and especially the Delta variant, could not be effectively managed by national and provincial authorities and would absolutely overwhelm an already inadequate hospitals and health care system nationwide.
I gain no comfort whatsoever from the reality that both concerns have been confirmed, with the Covid position tragically worsening by the day, with a rising death toll, including among young unvaccinated people. And because of the pressure on beds and intensive care units from pandemic patients, other vital health services have been suspended or cancelled.
The response of the PNG National Government and the 23 Provincial health authorities has been wholly inadequate. Nothing better illustrates this than the reality that just over 200,000 people out of an adult population of six million has received one vaccination - with probably no more than 50,000 fully vaccinated.
The vaccination rate among hospital and health centre nurses and other workers is probably no more than 20 per cent, despite all health care workers getting vaccine priority. Vaccine resistance in the health sector remains alarming and is adding to pressures on major hospitals which are over-crowded and short of key medicines and services.
Australia has been the major provider of vital support for Papua New Guinea and Pacific Island nations as they confront the pandemic. We have given substantial cash support, almost unlimited vaccines, oxygen and ventilators and expert support.
In the case of Fiji, we have played the key role, beside the Fiji National Government, in helping the island nation achieve a double vaccination rate of over 80 per cent, enabling international tourism to resume by Christmas.
But the position in Papua New Guinea is deteriorating, and deteriorating rapidly. It is beyond the capacity of Australia to resolve, though as I have suggested we need to increase our assistance, but target it more to addressing gaping problems in the health system and not just providing cash which is not guaranteed to go where it is most in need!
But there is one other way Australia can help our neighbour in its moment of growing need.
Earlier this year I highlighted the unique role the Christian Churches play in Papua New Guinea, where Christian adherence among the population is above 90 per cent. In many rural communities it is 100 per cent.
Close to half the hospital and health care services for the nine million men, women and children of Papua New Guinea are provided by the churches – notably the Catholic, Lutheran, United and SDA churches. The Salvation Army and a number of other churches also provide specialist health and welfare services.
Remarkably, only a fraction of the cost of providing hospital and health care services is met by the National Government. With no real private health insurance system church run hospitals and health centres must raise their own funds, or secure support from overseas church partners. And they also rely on volunteers, and missionary workers, as they have done for generations.
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