Papua New Guinea’s coronavirus cases spike, health system ‘at risk of collapsing’

Australian officers carry packing containers containing some 8,000 preliminary doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine following their arrival on board a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft on the Port Moresby worldwide airport on March 23, 2021, as Papua New Guinea raced to quell a Covid-19 surge overwhelming its fragile health system.

Andrew Kutan | AFP | Getty Images

The coronavirus disaster that has gripped Papua New Guinea continues to worsen, because the Indo-Pacific nation waits in earnest for vaccines to reach.

In only one week — between March 22 and March 28 — there have been 1,786 new reported cases of Covid-19 and 13 deaths, in accordance with the most recent report from the World Health Organization and the PNG National Department of Health.

The weekly joint report mentioned that as of March 28, midday native time, the island-nation reported 5,349 whole cases and 49 deaths. It was the eighth consecutive week of will increase.

Papua New Guinea is a closely forested nation of fewer than 9 million people who lies about 100 miles (160 km) north of Australia at their closest level.

Prime Minister James Marape acknowledged last week there may be “rampant community transmission.”

Health system as ‘risk of collapsing’

The state of affairs on the bottom in PNG is alleged to be dire and worldwide organizations reminiscent of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) have warned of an imminent collapse of the nation’s overwhelmed health-care system.

“The health system in PNG is at risk of collapsing, as health facilities managing COVID-19 are close to capacity and almost too stretched to provide regular basic healthcare,” MSF mentioned.

The Pacific island state has solely about 500 docs, lower than 4,000 nurses, and beneath 3,000 neighborhood health employees, in accordance with knowledge the prime minister shared last year during an address to parliament. There are nearly 5,000 mattress areas in hospitals, he added.

MSF, which gives medical humanitarian help to international locations in disaster, mentioned that an increasing number of health-care staff in PNG examined optimistic for Covid-19, forcing them to quarantine at dwelling. Health services managing the outbreak are near full capability, leading to longer ready occasions.

PNG additionally has comparatively poor health indicators, in accordance with Kate Schuetze, Pacific researcher at Amnesty International.

Additional private protecting tools, testing capability and human assets have to be thought-about quick to offer help to the already strained healthcare system.

Ghulam Nabi

interim head of mission for Papua New Guinea at MSF

“We’ve got already a poor health-care system and then you’ve also got high levels of comorbidities that are also going to impact with the Covid-19 crisis,” Schuetze instructed CNBC on Wednesday. “So, you have malaria in the country, you have multi-drug resistant tuberculosis as well as a range of other illnesses that could compound the impact of Covid-19.”

A big quantity of individuals additionally stay in rural or distant communities the place it is laborious to entry the identical stage of health care as these residing in city facilities reminiscent of Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, she added.

Strained health-care system

MSF additionally mentioned it solely has sufficient testing cartridges to last as long as two weeks.

“Additional personal protective equipment, testing capacity and human resources need to be considered fast to provide assistance to the already strained healthcare system,” mentioned Ghulam Nabi, interim head of mission for Papua New Guinea at MSF, in an announcement.

He added that MSF is asking on organizations within the area to behave and mobilize shortly to extend their assist to the Pacific nation.

Access to vaccines and tackling misinformation

PNG this week rolled out its vaccination drive utilizing the 8,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 photographs that Australia donated.

The nation’s prime minister Marape obtained his first dose on Tuesday, according to reports.

Rising vaccine nationalism all over the world is making it tougher for small, growing nations reminiscent of PNG to entry photographs to inoculate their inhabitants.

Many of them depend on a world vaccination initiative referred to as Covax, which goals to make sure equitable distribution of photographs in much less rich international locations. It is co-led by WHO, Gavi — the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.

Amnesty’s Schuetze mentioned one of the challenges with the Covax facility is that not sufficient international locations are donating enough cash and assets, or supplying sufficient vaccines, to make sure a extra equitable distribution.

PNG is because of obtain around 588,000 doses of vaccine from Covax by June.

Australia, for its half, has reportedly requested the European Union to launch 1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to PNG. It was initially contracted to go to Australia. Reuters reported last week that the EU has but to answer that request.

Canberra has additionally reportedly requested the U.S., Japan and India — the opposite members of the casual Quad alliance — to assist PNG.

Meanwhile, vaccine skepticism and the unfold of misinformation is making issues extra sophisticated within the island-nation. Opposition leader Belden Namah reportedly asked the federal government to droop the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, alleging it was exposing residents to potential severe hurt.

The PNG authorities must do extra to teach and inform the general public about vaccines and health-care remedy on Covid-19, Amnesty’s Schuetze mentioned.

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