ChildFund warns of cost of COVID-19 disruption in Papua New Guinea

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New report shows of decades of progress in child health outcomes are at risk as vaccination and health programs halted.

A new report released by ChildFund Australia today warns that there may be an explosion of infectious diseases in Papua New Guinea as a result of the diversion of health resources to the COVID-19 response.

The ChildFund report also warns the already overwhelmed health system in PNG will struggle if there is a significant outbreak of COVID-19.

ChildFund Australia CEO Margaret Sheehan said “We are deeply concerned that more children may end up contracting preventable diseases like TB, polio and measles because they haven’t been vaccinated during the pandemic.

“Children haven’t been the face of the pandemic, but the collateral damage of COVID-19 means they are at serious risk of suffering serious long-term health consequences as a result.

“PNG already has dangerously low levels of vaccination, and has fewer than 1,000 doctors. For many years now it has been struggling to deal with an ongoing tuberculosis epidemic.

“Prevention and containment measures in response to COVID-19 are essential, but we are concerned that it comes at the cost of sacrificing other life-saving health programs, such as vaccinations, health screening and outreach programs in remote areas.”

The collateral damage of the COVID-19 response in the Asia Pacific includes:

  • Halting of immunisation campaigns by government agencies and NGOs due to lockdown measures and social distancing rules.
  • Fewer women in PNG are seeking to give birth in clinics, putting the lives of themselves and their newborns at risk
  • An interruption to global pharmaceutical supply chains is resulting in a shortage of medicines in many rural healthcare clinics
  • Travel restrictions are preventing patients in rural areas from seeking treatment for diseases such as tuberculosis. Where TB treatment programs are interrupted, there is the risk of a significant increase in multi-drug resistance tuberculosis, which is extremely costly to treat.
  • Bed net distribution to rural communities, which helps prevent malaria infections, has reduced in favour of COVID-19 response activities such as supplies of hand sanitiser.

“We don’t want countries like PNG to have to decide between a COVID-19 outbreak and essential health programs. That is a terrible choice to have to make – but that is the reality right now given their shortage of both health facilities and staff.

“Ongoing Australian Government support is even more important now to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases on our doorstep.”

ChildFund Australia Health Advisor Tracy Yuen said 18 years after the disease was officially eradicated, polio re-emerged in PNG in 2018 due to low levels of immunisation. This was controlled through an intensive, large-scale vaccination initiative, but came at significant cost to the country.

“ChildFund Australia’s report shows that the COVID-19 pandemic could undo decades of gains in combatting infectious diseases, child mortality and maternal health in Papua New Guinea.

“Even when the immediate danger of COVID-19 is behind us, the global recession could mean many countries may not have the funds to adequately resource their health programs.

“For the children living in the remote and rural communities of PNG, without nearby access to healthcare, immunisation programs and outreach health clinics can ensure vulnerable children both survive and thrive.”

The report can be downloaded here.

ChildFund Papua New Guinea and the CIMC-Family and Sexual Violence Action Committee (FSVAC) is calling for a zero tolerance approach to family violence, following the recent attack against athlete Debbie Kaore.

Debbie has shown immense courage and resolve in reporting the violence she experienced from her partner. As a young leader and role model, her commitment to sharing her story publicly is a powerful way to draw attention to what is an endemic issue in PNG. Debbie is an International rugby player and boxer, who also teaches other women how to box, released a video of a violent attack to highlight domestic violence in PNG.

She stated: “I know there are a lot of Papua New Guinean women out there that are going through the same thing, they need to be strong; they need to get out — do what is right for you, your life matters.”

We would like to offer her our sincere support during this very challenging period of her life.

It is encouraging to see the recent statements issued by Prime Minister James Marape the Governor of National Capital District Powes Parkop, PNG Olympic Committee and the Armed Forces condemning violence and calling for behaviour change within PNG.

Strong leadership is vital if we are to see action taken against perpetrators, and a culture of zero tolerance to violence prevail. This must be accompanied by continued government commitment to the resourcing of services which both prevent and respond to violence against women and children.

A multi-sectoral approach is also essential. It is clear that if we are to end GBV in the country, behaviour change is needed at all levels of society, in rural communities, among young people, within the business sector, and at all levels of government.

ChildFund and FSVAC are committed to driving change, and will continue to implement programs and services which address the causes of violence; build the capacity of our legal system, and strengthen the services available to survivors.

CIMC-FSVAC as a peak body focused on enhancing responsive referral pathway through its survivor-centered advocacy, has commended service providers for swift response and assistance to Debbie’s call for help. FSVAC has emphasized on maintaining a survivor-centred approach based on the human rights framework of protecting the dignity and privacy of survivors who suffer as result of gender-based or family and sexual violence.

Debbie is not alone in her experience; it is a terrible tragedy that so many women in PNG continue to experience violence in their homes. Debbie has used her profile before to speak out against gender inequality in PNG and also run boxing classes for women, including many from disadvantaged backgrounds, through a group she founded with her sister called Kamapim Boxing Meri (Creating Female Boxers).

We all have a part to play in building a safer community for the women and children of Papua New Guinea, and in upholding their right to live safe from harm.

Marcia Kalinoe
National Coordinator – CIMC-FSVAC

Bridgette Thorold
Country Director, ChildFund PNG

For anyone experiencing or witnessing family violence, the 1 Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain offers immediate tele-counselling and referral services across the country. Call freephone 7150-8000.