28 Oct 2021

British medical team head to PNG Highlands Covid-19 hotspot

6:38 pm on 28 October 2021

A British Emergency Medical Team has been deployed to Papua New Guinea's Western Highlands province to help treat Covid-19 patients, and a Christian medical team has arrived by boat in Western province.

Peter Sykes, the leader of the British medical team speaks at a function to mark their arrival.

Peter Sykes, the leader of the British medical team speaks at a function to mark their arrival. Photo: Supplied/ PNG Department of Health

The Western Highlands is one of the worst affected areas in PNG as it struggles with a brutal third wave of the pandemic, fuelled by transmission of the Delta variant.

The British team is scheduled to be in the provincial capital Mt Hagen for six weeks unless they are needed in another province as well. The team includes ten staff with expertise in intensive care, emergency care, nursing and emergency first response.

Controller of the National Pandemic Response David Manning welcomed their help, and said Mt Hagen's health system was in dire need of specialist assistance.

David Manning, PNG Controller of the National Pandemic Response

David Manning, PNG Controller of the National Pandemic Response speaking at a function to mark the British team's arrival. Photo: Supplied/ PNG Department of Health

Like hospitals in most PNG cities, Mt Hagen Hospital's wards have been full with Covid-19 patients this month.

For weeks, dozens of people presenting at the facility each day have tested positive for the virus, while Covid deaths are surging in the province, and morgues are full.

A senior physician at the hospital told RNZ Pacific that all mild and moderate cases were being asked to self-isolate at home, while severe cases only were being treated in the hospital

Manning admitted PNG was facing significant challenges in the current wave of the pandemic, and was grateful for the support from the British.

The British High Commissioner to PNG said the team would try to support setting up better systems for coping with the influx of Covid-19 patients even after it had gone.

"It's not only about dealing with a surge of Covid-19 cases in the Western Highlands... there's also some capacity building here.

"[I'm hoping] that the team will leave behind a legacy, and will help put the Covid-19 system on a sure footing to be able to be more resilient in the way it responds to such crisis in future.''

Mt Hagen Hospital, Papua New Guinea's third-largest, has run out of drugs and medical supplies as a nationwide drug shortage cripples hospitals around the country.

Mt Hagen Hospital is the third largest hospital in PNG. Photo: EMTV

Australian team at work in Western Province

Meanwhile, the crew of a Youth With a Mission ship carrying medical volunteers is running health patrols in Papua New Guinea's remote Western Province, Loop PNG reported.

Teams from the MV YWAM PNG training and medical ship will work with the province's health authority, sustainable development program, World Vision and Australian Aid on the Covid-19 response, as well as providing vaccinations against other diseases to children.

Located on the border with Indonesia, Western province is another of PNG's Covid-19 hotspots.

Local health authorities have warned that virus has spread easily over the border, and the health system is overwhelmed.

The MV YWAM PNG ship is supporting a medical team working in PNG's Western Province.

The MV YWAM PNG Photo: Supplied/ YWAM

YWAM Australia and PNG managing director Ken Mulligan said the organisation has had teams working in the province since June. Working alongside other organisations they had already given more than 1600 Covid-19 vaccinations and more than 7,300 other immunisations for children in more than 60 villages

But they needed better logistical support to be able to do more.

"The ship provides much needed support in a range of ways - including consistent cold chain, supplies storage, communication, and of course transport to difficult-to-reach communities."

Dr Niko Wuatai, the chief executive of the provincial health authority in Western province said accessibility to remote communities was a major obstacle, and the ship was a welcome boost to their efforts "during such a challenging time".

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