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A health crisis on Australia’s doorstep

The lives of two young siblings living in remote Papua New Guinea are at a greater risk than ever before as the COVID-19 crisis pushes the country’s health system to breaking point.

By Rita Mu

Max’s mother Esther watches on with a big smile as Max (above) laughs and claps his hands.

Deep down, though, she is full of worry.

Max is only two years old, but for most of his life he has had recurrent chest infections and a persistent cough.

Esther suspects he might have tuberculosis (TB), an airborne infectious disease that generally affects the lungs. If left untreated, TB can become fatal.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), where Max lives, the disease is endemic and a leading cause of death.

Esther’s daughter – 12-year-old Ruth – was a diagnosed with TB last year.
A ChildFund staff member noticed her glands were significantly swollen and referred her to a doctor.
Ruth was prescribed a nine-month treatment plan.
She spent most of 2020 battling the disease.
In November 2020, Ruth finished her treatment.
Fortunately, she has since made a full recovery.

When children like Ruth and Max become seriously ill, they must travel to PNG’s capital city of Port Moresby – several hours away by foot and public transport – for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

It is a long and costly trip for a family like Ruth and Max’s living in extreme poverty.

They live on a bamboo platform with no walls and a thatched roof.
Esther relies on the sales of coconuts, which she finds around the family home, to support Max and Ruth.
The family’s income is sporadic and unreliable, and pays for essentials such as medicine but little else.

For children like Ruth and Max living in poor, remote communities in PNG, contracting a life-threatening infectious disease is a risk they face every day.

Good hygiene and sanitation facilities are few and far between.

And local health facilities are almost always understaffed and under-resourced.

With COVID-19 sweeping through PNG and the country’s health system at breaking point, accessing basic health services for children like Max and Ruth is more difficult than ever.

Will you please help protect children during the COVID-19 crisis and ensure they can continue the treatment they need when they are sick?

Yes, I will donate now.

The devastating impact of COVID-19

The recent COVID-19 crisis in PNG has put the lives of children like Max and Ruth in serious danger.

Papua New Guinea’s already fragile health system is now at breaking point. Hospitals and health clinics are overwhelmed by the huge numbers of COVID-19 patients, and many are no longer able to provide essential health care and services.

Children and families living in remote communities have been turned away from their local clinics because facilities have been converted to spaces for testing and treating COVID-19 patients.

While many lives in PNG have already been lost to COVID-19, many more could be lost because everyday health services are no longer available.

In March this year ChildFund PNG's health team visited Max and Ruth to see how they were doing.
They are both well and happy.
But Esther is worried.
She fears Max and Ruth will contract COVID-19.
She knows they are vulnerable.
ChildFund is providing essential health information to Esther’s local community, and other rural villages.
This ensures families understand how they can protect themselves through good hygiene and sanitation practices.
Community health volunteers trained by ChildFund are also setting up simple, affordable hand-washing facilities called tippy taps in home and rural health facilities.

ChildFund is also operating outreach clinics in Central Province to provide children and their families with TB/HIV/malaria screening, vaccines, antenatal care, family planning advice, growth monitoring, health promotion, and other priority health services.

These outreach clinics are organised and run by health professionals and local community health volunteers, who are trained by ChildFund.

They are helping to save the lives of some of PNG’s poorest children and families, and have been critical during the COVID-19 crisis to help ensure children like Ruth and Max continue to get the essential medical care they need while hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed.

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