3 Sep 2003

Medical team now assessing malaria outbreak in Panguna area of Bougainville after 31 reported deaths

4:37 am on 3 September 2003

The United Nations Mission on Bougainville says a medical team is now in the Panguna area to assess a severe malaria epidemic which has reportedly killed 31 people.

Clement Bireo from UNMOB says this comes after the hardline rebel leader Francis Ona agreed to allow the team into the Panguna area including the no go zone which he controls.

Mr Bireo says up until now, Mr Ona had refused to allow health authorities into the zone which left people with malaria no access to medical help.

He says the number of those infected is unknown but it's anticipated that the rate will be high.

"The medical officers are there. They will come up with some sort of figure within the area,(of those affected) ..... I think the population there will be roughly about two to three thousand. We are helping as much as we can. We've delivered two loads so far of medical supplies to that area."

Mr Bireo says the UN is waiting for the government to respond to its appeal for urgent drugs and assistance.