The glittering steel tower on the hilltop
Papua New Guinea – you couldn’t make it up if you tried

Something clearly unhealthy with PNG’s health service

Port Moresby General HospitalPAUL OATES

AS IF chief secretary Isaac Lupari didn’t have enough headaches this week, there’s a crisis in the Papua New Guinea health service.

Initially, doctors and nursing staff at Mt Hagen general hospital went on strike over mismanagement and corrupt practices, threatening mass resignations which the health secretary construed as a “disrespect for due process”.

Mr Lupari subsequently met with health minister Michael Malabag and senior health officials to “ensure a multi-sectoral response to address the issues.”

A high powered delegation was to be “briefed and instructed to make further investigations and make required recommendations.”

On the same day (last Thursday), it was reported that the PNG government owes more than K50 million to suppliers and distributors of pharmaceuticals. Mr Malabag and health department secretary Pascoe Kase issued a statement saying contractors would receive their payment “when funds were available”. There was no clarification as to when that might be.

This is the same Health Minister and Secretary who were in place when an official tender process to purchase and distribute pharmaceuticals was corrupted causing Australia to withdraw its aid funding from the project.

The whole messy business was later defended by prime minister Peter O’Neill who said PNG would fund and control this process.

At the same time, the chairman of the parliamentary committee on public service reform, Bire Kimisopa, released two comprehensive reports to the media, frustrated in his efforts to table them in Parliament. Mr Malabag dismissed the reports saying they were “full of inaccuracies”.

Mr Malabag is also struggling to mount an adequate government response to the drug resistant tuberculosis epidemic which is threatening to cross the Torres Strait to Australia. Port Moresby is now the tuberculosis hot spot in PNG with one-quarter of the TB burden, having taken over from Western Province as the major problem area.

But all is not lost. The government is spending millions on a catamaran to sail around the southern coast of Morobe Province to treat sick people. Access to this piecemeal service is likely to be a major challenge

Mr Lupari’s recent suggestions that PNG is in good hands and that people have nothing to worry about seem at odds with these grim news reports that seem to emerge every day.

It’s doubtful that paying too much attention to the government media unit’s spin on things is a healthy way to run a country.


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Paul Oates

It is today reported that Health Secretary Kase is now suggesting that there are doubts the PNG half share of the funding will now not be available to restore ANGAU Hospital.

Mr Kase apparently suggested that the closing of the Manus Refugee Centre would now stop the Australian funding of A$200 million but that was denied by Australian officials. The PNG share of the funding was essential according to an ANGAU Official, to effectively fund the master plan.

More excuses Mr Kase? What's the real reason you can't deliver?

Paul Oates

The question of competency in managing PNG Health was further put under the spotlight yesterday when the PM had to personally intervene in the doctors and nurses dispute at Mt Hagen Hospital.

Apparently the terms of reference for the committee of inquiry set up by minister Malabag did not and could not address the issues raised by the Mt Hagen doctors.

After speaking by phone to representatives of the doctors and nurses, the PM is now flying the union reps to Moresby to try and sort out the problems. Clearly minister Malabag and his secretary, Mr Kase, are totally unfit to manage their way out of a paper bag.

Mr Kase advised that his department is now up to date in paying their outstanding accounts but then was quoted as saying, “We want to get rid of all these old bills and focus on the more current. So it’s not all that bad.”

Since the government provided another K25 million to pay outstanding accounts, presumably that still leaves another K25 million outstanding of the K50 million previously reported as owing for past supplies of pharmaceuticals.

However Mr Kase was quoted as saying, “that funding will need to be managed properly" and "medicine is something that cannot be compromised.”

So whatever benchmark the PNG government now uses to measure competency in administrative and funds management is clearly either set far too low or both minister Malabag and secretary Kase should be sacked forthwith as having demonstrated they are incompetent and totally unable to effectively manage their nation’s health programs.

But then many people already knew that didn't they?

Peter Sandery

Sorry, not able to enlighten you on any of that, Paul and I understand, totally, the comments you are making about inland and mountain areas - the reason I know a bit about the operation is that I was a guest that made up a table of ten amongst a boatload at the Townsville launch of the said vessel.

I do know from that, which was about two years ago, they are continuously raising funds for their operations. As far as cover goes, they at that stage were aiming for Western, Gulf, Milne Bay, Morobe and both Sepiks but am not sure how they are progressing.

Like you, I am sure, I was wondering what vote was actually impacted with the impost.

Paul Oates

Thanks Peter. I do take my hat off to those volunteers who are contributing their time, effort and expertise to help those in need.

My contention is that the boat can clearly only provide services to those who can access it. Those people who are in the hinterland and live in mountain villages are reportedly without any health services and this is a condemnation of the government.

It is reported that the government invested K3.2 million in this boat but there is no information about how much of the population is covered by this service. Clearly the maintenance and operation of the boat must be paid for but there were no details in the report as to how this large amount of funding was actually reconciled against a previously established, planned and integrated health service to everyone in the Province. Are you able to provide some details on this aspect?

Peter Sandery

Pretty spot on with most of your comments, Paul, except for the bit about the catamaran - it is part of a two or three boat operation run extremely efficiently by an NGO which has the moniker YWAM and has an office here in Townsville.

They travel to and service pretty remote parts as they also have dinghies on board and are staffed largely by volunteers some of whom are highly experienced in specialist medical fields.

None of this detracts from the fact that this should not be necessary if the wealth derived from Ok Tedi, Porgera, Kutubu et al had been used to enhance the wellbeing of all Papua New Guineans instead of a favoured few.

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