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PNG's health system on the verge of collapse as COVID-19 cases surge

26 Mar 2021

The health system in Papua New Guinea is on the brink of collapse as COVID-19 cases triple in a matter of weeks and increasing numbers of healthcare staff are testing positive, says Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). 

“The health facilities are struggling to cope with the outbreak,” said Ghulam Nabi, interim head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières in Papua New Guinea.
 
“There are significant constraints because a substantial number of healthcare staff have recently tested positive for COVID-19. They have to isolate and can’t go to work. Various healthcare services have been restricted and the remaining staff are concerned as they expect a major disruption to healthcare services.”

"We are calling on organisations in the region to act quickly and mobilise to increase their support to Papua New Guinea."

Ghulam Nabi
Interim Head of Mission, Papua New Guinea
MSF started supporting the Rita Flynn hospital, one of the two major hospitals in Port Moresby, in October last year by providing staff and cartridges to analyse samples of PCR tests for COVID-19. At Rita Flynn hospital, almost 40 per cent of people getting tested are testing positive for COVID-19. MSF expects this will lead to more severe cases in coming weeks.
 
However, a complicating factor is the lack of testing capacity in the country. Today, MSF only has enough testing cartridges to last for up to two weeks.
 
“There are almost no cartridges left, which are required to test PCR samples, and there aren’t enough healthcare workers to carry out the testing,” said Nabi.
 
“Additional personal protective equipment, testing capacity and human resources need to be considered fast to provide assistance to the already strained healthcare system. MSF is calling on organisations in the region to act quickly and mobilise to increase their support to Papua New Guinea.”
 
MSF is also partnering with Rita Flynn hospital to manage a makeshift 43-bed COVID-19 treatment facility to treat moderate to severely ill patients for COVID-19 from early April.
 
The current COVID-19 outbreak in Papua New Guinea highlights the urgent need for global vaccine equity. Vaccinations need to be made available quickly for frontline healthcare staff and high-risk groups, as recommended by WHO.
 
“While it’s too late to contain the current outbreak, we need vaccinations as fast as possible in Papua New Guinea to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on the healthcare system and prevent or at least limit further outbreaks,” said Nabi.

“While it’s too late to contain the current outbreak, we need vaccinations as fast as possible in Papua New Guinea to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on the healthcare system and prevent or at least limit further outbreaks."

Ghulam Nabi
Interim Head of Mission, Papua New Guinea

Australia is now locally producing millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine which could be shared with Papua New Guinea immediately as it battles this spiralling outbreak.

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.