COVID-19 EMERGENCY CRISIS APPEAL

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Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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ChildFund is deeply concerned about the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea, and is working with government officials and other non-government organisations in the nation’s capital of Port Moresby and Central Province to ensure children and vulnerable communities are protected.

This includes helping to reduce stigma and break down any barriers that may prevent people from remote communities from getting tested for COVID-19.

ChildFund Papua New Guinea Country Director Bridgette Thorold said: “It is important that people, especially people in remote areas, know how and when to get tested.

“We are extremely worried that this virus could spread to remote villages undetected, and that would be disastrous. That is why we need to continue to educate the public and provide vital health information and advice to families and communities.”

The new lockdown provisions announced by the PNG government last week threaten to further disrupt TB and other essential health programs in the country.

Not only will healthcare workers and organisations like ChildFund be prevented from travelling to rural communities to conduct outreach programs, but children and families will be unable to journey to clinics, which are often located long distances from their homes.

The number of COVID-19 cases in PNG has been growing at an accelerated pace in recent weeks following an outbreak at Port Moresby General Hospital.

A fortnight ago, Papua New Guinea had 11 confirmed cases. That number increased to 32 last Friday, before jumping to 62 confirmed cases on Sunday 26 July 2020.

Although the majority of cases are linked to the hospital, there are concerns the disease is more widespread and that people are not getting tested because they fear discrimination, or have little understanding of the disease and how infectious it is.

ChildFund has been helping to break down these barriers by integrating COVID-19 prevention into all its work.

In recent months, this has included expanding our 1 Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain, which has now been resourced with additional counsellors to respond to the increased number of calls relating to family violence, while also providing information about COVID-19.

In addition to the health risks posed by the virus, ChildFund has warned of the detrimental impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable children.

A report released by ChildFund Australia in June warned 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 warned the already overwhelmed health system in PNG will struggle if there is a significant outbreak of COVID-19.

Port Moresby General Hospital, which provides healthcare support to those living in the nation’s capital as well as communities in Central Province, has been forced to scale down its services as a result of the recent COVID-19 outbreak.

“The measures that are put in place to prevent the spread of the disease are essential, but we are concerned that these measures may come at a cost,” Bridgette said.

“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.

“These services are as important as ever.”

Tiny one-year-old Max has been sick since he was just one month old.

“He is always sick,” his mother Esther says. “He is small. He can’t get rid of the cough.

“All I want is for my son to be better.”

Esther and her family live three hours from Port Moresby in a tiny village that is an 8km walk from the closest health centre.

She has made the long trek to Port Moresby with Max ten times in his short life, determined to get him the help he needs.

He has been treated with course after course of antibiotics, but his little body is still wracked with coughs and he’s wasting away before his mother’s eyes.

Without urgent treatment, his life hangs in the balance.

Like her little brother, eleven-year-old Ruth is small for her age. She is starting to show all the signs of TB.

Since Max fell ill, Ruth has missed school again and again.

“When my brother is sick my mother has to take him to Port Moresby. There’s no one to look after me so I go to my grandmother’s house and I don’t go to school.”

Now, Ruth is sick too, with the enlarged lymph nodes and cough that are sure signs of TB.

Unless she receives treatment quickly, Ruth faces months of debilitating illness, more disruption to her education, and the risk of life-long disability – or even death.

Like any mum, Esther’s love for her children knows no bounds. She’s desperate to help her children get well.

Walking for hours over rough ground to reach the nearest health centre, carrying a sick baby. Collecting coconuts for days on end, to sell for the bus fare to Port Moresby. Taking trip after trip to the distant city, separated from her husband and daughter while she tries to get treatment that will stop her baby coughing.

Esther will never stop fighting to save her children’s lives, but unless she can access the healthcare they need, her fierce determination may not be enough – and during this COVID-19 pandemic, her children are at greater risk than ever.

Almost 90% of the population in PNG lives in remote areas where they have trouble accessing health care.

Parents like Esther face overwhelming challenges in trying to protect their children from infectious disease, including:

  • Lack of access to medical care. Even where there is a health facility within walking distance, facilities and services are often extremely basic and vaccines or medicine may not be available.
  • The cost of travelling to seek medical care. Many families like Esther’s do not have their own transport – and time away from home often means lost income and extra expenses they simply cannot afford.

Will you help mums like Esther protect their children from infectious disease?

Your gift today could help provide life-saving health care to children like Ruth and Max.