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No time to lose: One million COVID-19 cases predicted in PNG 'in a few weeks'

Burnet Institute

01 April, 2021


Image: Diocese of Lae receive their PPEs. Image by Caritas Australia.

The following is a joint statement calling for the Australian Government to provide further emergency health support to Papua New Guinea.

Community transmission of COVID-19 across almost every province in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is growing, with hundreds of new cases being identified daily.

Epidemiological estimates are that infections could have now reached over 100,000 cases in PNG and could reach one million cases within a few weeks.

The PNG Epidemic Response Group, including Burnet Institute, is an alliance of leading Medical Research Institutes, Australian Churches, professional services, and development and humanitarian organisations operating in PNG. The Group is calling on the Australian Government to release a greater amount of vaccines from Australian supplies to urgently tackle the epidemic in PNG before it spirals further out of control.

“Essential healthcare across PNG has been disrupted. Hospitals and healthcare centres have reached capacity and are now closing,” Burnet Institute Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb AC said.

“Waiting for the supply of vaccinations from the European Union is already too late - PNG is facing a potential humanitarian crisis on a scale that have not been seen before.

“We welcome the decision by the Australian Government to immediately allocate 8,000 vaccines for frontline health workers in PNG and the Australian Government’s indication that it will do more. Now is that time.”

The Group is calling on the Morrison Government to urgently consider the following pressing needs:

  1. The Australian Government builds on its immediate allocation of 8,480 vaccines for frontline health workers to 20,000 and help increase PNG’s capacity to rollout the vaccines at a provincial level.

  2. That this increased emergency allocation be made available to PNG national development workers in health, medical settings, health promotion or gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and other staff, working in an integrated way with frontline workers.

  3. That the Australian Government immediately allocate one million of its domestically produced vaccines to PNG now, along with accompanying technical assistance and support to the PNG Government and communities to address vaccine hesitancy and distribution.

  4. That all other development workers are prioritised in the first phase of PNG’s national vaccination program. This would cover deliver essential workers helping deliver development programs in sectors such as education, water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), the empowerment of women and people with a disability, and rural development and livelihoods.

  5. That the Australian Government supports the vaccination of Australian and expatriate development workers who work alongside PNG colleagues and support their health and development response to COVID-19.

“The risks of the virus mutating further as it takes hold across the PNG population is very real. If new variants emerge, they threaten to undermine the Australian vaccines program. It’s in our national interest, as well as the right humanitarian thing to do to prioritise Australian vaccines to assist PNG.“ - Australian Council for International Development Chief Executive, Marc Purcell.

President of the Australian National Council of Churches in Australia, Bishop Phillip Huggins said: “Many of our agencies and colleagues have worked in PNG with the people since independence to support the country’s development aspirations.

“We are working in close partnership with the PNG national and provincial governments, medical researchers and hospitals, and local NGOs, charities and churches on the ground to assist the response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This cooperation is a testament to the strength of our shared commitment to PNG’s prosperity and development and our two countries’ deep people-to-people and historical ties.”

Chair of the International Development Contractors Community, Stuart Schaefer said: “The people of PNG continue to demonstrate strong resilience in the face of challenges to health, livelihoods and personal safety. We remain deeply committed to working with the PNG Government and its people, as well as with the Australian Government, to navigate this current crisis.”

The PNG Epidemic Response Group:

Includes Burnet Institute, the National Council of Churches in Australia, the Australian Council for International Development, and the International Development Contractors Community.

For more information or to arrange interviews:

For Burnet Institute contact Tracy Parish or 0403 755082 or [email protected]

For ACFID contact Madeleine Flint on 0401 721 064 or [email protected]

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)

Telephone

+61392822174

Email

[email protected]

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