The terrifying prediction for PNG’s health system

Susu Mama’s, Port Moresby General Hospital Photo: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Senior doctors in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are speaking out with claims that medical facilities and personnel across the nation are vastly inadequate and that the health system is on the verge of collapse.

Head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Port Moresby General Hospital, Prof Glen Mola revealed to the Guardian that, “more than 30 per cent of the staff in the maternity ward have tested positive with COVID-19.”

And alarmingly, he predicted that if things don’t improve, “most Papua New Guineans could end up dying in the hospital car park.”

A report published by the PNG and Australian governments showed that the country has only around 500 doctors and 4,000 to 5,000 beds for a population of around 9 million people.

Director of emergency medicine in Port Moresby General Hospital, Dr Sam Yockopua, also told The Guardian that PNG’s health system is already crippled.

“We have a very fragile health system and the stress is already being felt. We may very soon collapse if we are not careful … It is a ticking timebomb.”

The number of trained health workers in PNG outnumbers the growing population in the country.

However some help is at hand, with the Government turning to the World Bank for support.

The World Bank has provided an additional US$30 million (K70m) to combat COVID in the country, with PNG World Bank Country Manager Stefano Mocci telling the Post Courier, “now is a time for us to build a stronger and more resilient health system for all Papua New Guineans.”

Initial funding from the World Bank that was announced in 2020 was used to purchase 200,000 items of personal protective equipment, a new container-based laboratory and medical supplies, as well as provide transport for COVID-19 samples to labs in PNG and Australia.

PNG’s Health Minister Jelta Wong told the Post Courier that the low number of trained workers is due to the small number of medical schools throughout the country.

“As a government we will ensure that the Department of health and Department of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology will work together to ensure that the health workforce numbers are increased and doubled in the next decade.”

PNG’s closest neighbour Australia, has already sent doctors to assist the shortage of health workers, but Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the Sydney Morning Herald that she was concerned for her state (Queensland).

“Some 500 tests and 250 positive (in PNG), that’s quite extraordinary and quite a concern when its right on our doorstep.”

America has also sent an Emergency Medical Team to assist with PNG’s COVID response.

The World Bank has assured PNG that it will provide further support to health authorities and build the capacity of front-line workers.

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