Skip to main content

You are here

Australia’s COVID-19 support to PNG is insufficient and too late

19 Mar 2021

The Australian Government’s support for Papua New Guinea’s COVID-19 response is welcome, but is insufficient and too late, said Médecins Sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“The outbreak in PNG is rapidly escalating, with hospitals and clinics overwhelmed and many health workers already infected. What’s needed is a bigger response, now, before the situation gets out of control,” said MSF Australia Executive Director Jennifer Tierney. 

Despite the worsening outbreak, the country is yet to receive any COVID-19 vaccines. “Timing is everything in controlling outbreaks, as MSF knows well through our responses to outbreaks globally, and vaccination of health workers is well overdue in the Pacific.”

“Papua New Guinea needed these vaccines yesterday. What will be the situation for other Pacific nations? Australia needs to act fast to ensure that all health workers and other high-risk people are vaccinated across the Pacific,” - Jennifer Tierney
PNG has been left behind due to the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally. While wealthy countries like Australia have pre-purchased millions of doses of vaccines, low-income countries like PNG are pushed to the back of the queue.
 
The Australian Government has pledged to soon deliver 8,000 AstraZeneca vaccines, but this is not enough to cover the country’s 30,000 health workers and ancillary staff, plus other high-risk groups, and is too late for the many healthcare professionals who are already infected. 
 
The Australian Government’s request to reallocate 1 million of its pre-purchased doses to PNG is welcome news, however these need to reach the country quickly if the health system of Papua New Guinea is going to manage this outbreak.
The perilous situation in PNG is yet another reason why the Australian Government needs to support the temporary intellectual property waiver proposed to the World Trade Organization – which is backed by more than 100 countries but blocked by Australia.
“Papua New Guinea needed these vaccines yesterday. What will be the situation for other Pacific nations? Australia needs to act fast to ensure that all health workers and other high-risk people are vaccinated across the Pacific,” said Jennifer Tierney.
 
High-risk people like health workers need to be vaccinated first, no matter where they live, in line with the WHO Equitable Allocation Framework. This will reduce the risk of vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variants developing and help end the pandemic sooner.
 

 

Aerial view of the banner deployed by MSF in front of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva calling on certain governments to stop blocking the landmark waiver proposal on intellectual property (IP) during the pandemic.
The perilous situation in PNG is yet another reason why the Australian Government needs to support the temporary intellectual property waiver proposed to the World Trade Organization – which is backed by more than 100 countries but blocked by Australia.
 
“This game-changing proposal would mean that the world could manufacture vastly more COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments, so that developing nations have timely access to these tools. Australia, the ball is in your court to support this waiver and help end this global pandemic sooner, for all.”
MSF runs two projects in PNG, both on Tuberculosis. One is located in the capital of Port Moresby and the other one in a more rural setting in the Gulf Province, around Kerema. ©MSF

MSF has worked in PNG for many years running tuberculosis programs, and has supported COVID-19 diagnosis at the Rita Flynn testing centre in Port Moresby since October 2020. Our team in Port Moresby is currently assessing what the most effective and efficient support is for MSF to provide, given the shortage of staff not only for COVID-19 related medical care but also to sustain the regular healthcare activities in PNG, which risk being disrupted.