Urgent action needed as COVID-19 overwhelms PNG health system

The International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for concerted international action to support Papua New Guinea (PNG) as a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the country’s health system.

The latest surge has seen the highest number of daily COVID-19 cases recorded since the beginning of the pandemic.

Uvenama Rova, PNG Red Cross Secretary General, said:

“Hospitals are full, and patients are being turned away in Port Moresby and provincial areas. Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks.”

“In all areas of PNG, we are deeply concerned that the risks of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 are skyrocketing due to limited health infrastructure, high rates of illness, all compounded by poor access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation facilities.”

The vaccine rollout, that has helped to contain the virus in other countries, remains extremely low in Papua New Guinea due to a range of issues, including misinformation, public apprehension, and logistical challenges with the rollout. Only 1.5 per cent of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, with 0.67 per cent fully vaccinated, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.

PNG Red Cross is supporting efforts by the government and health authorities to contain the spread of the virus, distributing personal protective equipment such as face masks and providing targeted support to some of most vulnerable in the community who have been confined to their homes by the virus.

John Fleming, IFRC’s Asia Pacific Head of Health, said:

“If this COVID surge continues at such an alarming speed, PNG’s fragile health system is at risk of collapse. It is vital that emergency healthcare services are increased to prevent greater suffering and loss of life.”

“We need to respond to the pandemic of misinformation that is spreading alongside the virus. We need to urgently inform people about the benefits of the vaccine, while speeding up the challenging rollout of vaccinations in all areas of PNG, from the highlands to coastal villages.”

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