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PNG health system ‘on brink of collapse’, Qld may feel the aftershocks

A major international doctors’ group says Papua New Guinea’s health system is on the brink of collapse as COVID-19 cases soar, vaccine doses fall well short and health care staff test positive.

Mar 26, 2021, updated Mar 26, 2021
Royal Australian Air Force personal are seen preparing COVID-19 vaccines and humanitarian supplies for loading onto a C-17A Globemaster at RAAF Base Amberley, west of Brisbane, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Australia are sending 8,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine supply to Papua New Guinea who have more than 1,400 active cases of COVID-19 and the Australian government are asking AstraZeneca and European authorities to divert another 1 million doses to Papua New Guinea. (AAP Image/Darren England) NO ARCHIVING

Royal Australian Air Force personal are seen preparing COVID-19 vaccines and humanitarian supplies for loading onto a C-17A Globemaster at RAAF Base Amberley, west of Brisbane, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Australia are sending 8,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine supply to Papua New Guinea who have more than 1,400 active cases of COVID-19 and the Australian government are asking AstraZeneca and European authorities to divert another 1 million doses to Papua New Guinea. (AAP Image/Darren England) NO ARCHIVING

An Australian AUSMAT team is in PNG to provide an initial 8500 vaccine doses and assess the country’s needs.

As well, diplomatic efforts are being stepped up to get Europe to release one million vaccine doses Australia has bought and earmarked for its northern neighbour.

There are also growing concerns of pressure on Queensland’s health system as travellers return from PNG and people circulate around the Torres Strait islands.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says there is a lack of urgency being shown about the situation in PNG.

“The health facilities are struggling to cope with the outbreak,” said Ghulam Nabi, interim head of MSF’s mission.

MSF started supporting the Rita Flynn hospital, one of the two major hospitals in Port Moresby, in October 2020 by providing staff and cartridges to analyse samples of PCR tests for COVID-19.

MSF says it only has enough testing cartridges to last for up to two weeks.

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.

The organisation will also co-manage a 43-bed COVID-19 treatment facility to treat moderate to severely ill patients from early April.

MSF says organisations in the region need to act quickly and mobilise to increase their support to PNG, which as of Thursday had recorded just over 4100 cases.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Frances Adamson said the government was aware of the urgency of the situation.

“The possibility of some of Australia’s domestically produced stocks being able to be used for this purpose is certainly something that is live but yet formally to be decided by government,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Australian vaccine rollout is progressing with 408,000 shots delivered.

However, questions are being raised over whether GPs are abiding by the government’s rule that the jabs should be provided free of charge, including booking fees.

Independent MP Rebekha Sharkie has asked Health Minister Greg Hunt to look into the cases of several South Australian pensioners who were out of pocket for pre-vaccine consultations.

It’s expected more than 4000 general practices will be administering the vaccine in coming weeks, following the start of the GP program this week.

Supplies are not expected to be a problem following regulator approval of CSL’s Melbourne-made AstraZeneca product.

Governor-General David Hurley is due to get his first dose of the vaccine in Canberra on Friday.

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