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PNG calls for international help amid Delta surge

Burnet Institute

18 October, 2021

Image: A WHO and PNG NDoH team Meeting with staff at Wirui Catholic Clinic in West Sepik to discuss the COVID-19 response. Source: WHO PNG.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is calling for international assistance as it battles with a surge of COVID-19 cases. Hospitals in provinces throughout the country are under strain from the Delta variant of the virus, with test high positivity rates among a largely unvaccinated population.

PNG-based Burnet Institute Epidemiologist Dr Stefanie Vaccher told ABC News Radio isolation wards in Port Moresby were full, with patients having to be treated in other wards.

“The PNG health system is already strained at the best of times … combining that with a really low number of doctors and other healthcare workers in the country, we are seeing facilities having to shut their doors to anyone except for emergencies,” Dr Vaccher said.

Dr Vaccher said with limited testing it was difficult to determine the size of the surge, but test positivity rates in some facilities were over 70 per cent in a day.

“For comparison, we’re talking about how bad things are in Melbourne at the moment –their positivity rate was less than three per cent,” she said.

The lack of genetic sequencing capacity in PNG means determining the exact variant of the virus is difficult, but Dr Vaccher said the pace of virus’ spread, higher death rates and presenting with more severe illness were “hallmarks of Delta.”

She said an increase in community concern around the virus had been noticeable in recent weeks which was helping to encourage people to get vaccinated.

“Unfortunately as people lose family members and friends or see people become quite sick that is a realisation of how serious COVID-19 can be,” Dr Vaccher said.

Vaccine hesitancy concerning

Only one per cent of PNG’s population of 9 million is fully vaccinated.

The recent A Shot of Hope report which Burnet Institute co-authored said vaccine hesitancy was a significant issue in PNG where misinformation is rife on social media.

The report’s authors advocated for AUD$50 million to be spent on addressing vaccine hesitancy to encourage vaccination in low-income countries.

“It is vaccination that will ultimately save lives, not vaccines, and equitable investment in vaccine deployment, implementation and acceptance is now urgent to achieve the high vaccine uptake needed globally to end this pandemic,” the report’s authors said.

The report urges the Australian Government to step up its commitment to vaccinate low-income countries to reduce preventable suffering and death, and reduce the threat of the emergence of a COVID-19 variant which renders current vaccines ineffective.

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Burnet Institute

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