'The patient Earth is sick....'
Planning for resilient island communities

Learning important coronavirus lessons

PNG Defence Force (Alexander Nara)
PNG Defence Force personnel have been assigned to assist in the fight against coronavirus (Alexander Nara)

| My Land, My Country

LAE - So it’s a global pandemic with well over 16,000 dead already, 380,000 infected and less than 103,000 recovered.

It was a national health worry. But within days, it became a national emergency.

The prime minister taking advice from the National Security Council, a state of emergency declared and police commissioner David Manning appointed emergency controller.

For the first time in Papua New Guinea’s history, all the politicians and all the top bureaucrats are in the country. None of them want to be overseas.

Even the crooks who stole from Papua New Guinea’s health system and made millions from bribes want to be here in a country which is largely COVID-19 free (at least for now).

The irony of it all just gives you warm fuzzy feelings. What a beautiful example of poetic justice.

Australia, Singapore, China and the rest of the world are the least attractive places for anyone right now.

Every public official who thumbed their noses at PNG’s health system and went overseas for medical treatment now expects our underpaid doctors and nurses to build facilities that will be COVID-19 ready in weeks.

Big ask.

Oops! Why didn’t we invest in the health system and build it up for our people? Maybe, just maybe, one day we would need to use it. That day has come. A bit early, I must say.

Here is another piece of irony for you. The safest places in PNG right now are the villages where up to 70% of health facilities are closed because of lack of funding and lack of medicines.

Hundreds of villagers have been in ‘self-isolation’ for decades. They don’t have to maintain ‘social distancing.’

A lead team member in Morobe’s COVID-19 response team, said on Saturday, “the safest place right now is in the villages; they can easily self-isolate.” I didn’t say that, he did.

While there are reports of urban dwellers panic buying, food security in the villages remains constant.

The Western Highlanders will be complaining about having too much kaukau, potato, broccoli and cabbages because interprovincial travel has been drastically reduced and the Lae Market is closed.

I’d rather complain about having too much healthy food than about too many deaths from COVID-19.

The Papua New Guinea Defence force has been called on to provide security with the police. They have a funding shortage, planes that are grounded, facilities that have been screaming for government attention for decades.

They’ve been put on alert to be battle ready against COVID-19. Big ask. But I don’t doubt their abilities.

But let’s buy them the equipment, uniforms, vehicles and training. With our money. Let’s make them a force to be reckoned with. Give them the planes and the choppers so they can support us with pride.

Let’s not wait for a global crisis to do that.

We face an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. If there was any time in history to invest in agriculture (and I don’t mean oil palm), this is the time. This is the time to plant for the next 6-12 months to increase food security.

But at the same time, we should be building systems for the future when the rest of the world collapses around us.


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Arthur Williams

Phil, I just tuned in to BBC News. There was a professor of UK's Clinical effectiveness of drugs talking.

He told viewers of there being tests as he spoke to see if chloroquine and or hydroxychloroquine could be effective in combating the C-Virus.

From Wikipedia: 'On 17 March 2020, the AIFA Scientific Technical Commission of the Italian Medicines Agency expressed a favorable opinion on including the off-label use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19'

Reuters quoting SonntagsZeitung '20/03/29 'Novartis CEO says Malaria drug is biggest hope against coronavirus'
Source: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/novartis-ceo-says-malaria-drug-072752054.html

Many Big Pharma are working worldwide and several are trying old effective drugs used in other treatments to see if they can be use with or without enhancements for treating or hopefully stopping the current plague.

I experienced such a test earlier this century when a tiny area of my chest became itchy and seemed to fit the skin cancer scenario. After examination the doctor asked if i would mind trying a cream that seemed to work to resolve such a problem.

I accepted willingly and asked what it was.

"Genital wart ointment Arthur!"

It proved effective.

Philip Fitzpatrick

There’s a rumour going around that Scott Morrison’s COVID-19 backflip on the time customers can spend in their hairdresser was made on behalf of the Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash.

I was under the impression that her elaborate coiffure was a wig, the tightness of which had something to do with her twangy Strine pronunciation, but apparently it’s real and its elaborate construction takes time.

Jokes aside, the backflip is symptomatic of the vacillation of the government over the crisis and the conflicting messages we are receiving.

Sorting the truth from the barrage of information, misinformation, lies and scams that we are receiving via the media and the various levels of government is becoming increasingly difficult.

This is also happening overseas. One of the more horrifying moments was watching Donald Trump promoting the anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, as a cure for the virus.

He was standing in front of his two most senior medical advisors when he did it and then proceeded to argue with them when they pointed out that the claim was nonsense.

Shortly thereafter the first death from an overdose of chloroquine phosphate, used to clean fish tanks, was reported from Arizona.

Malaria is caused by a parasite that gets into the blood stream from mosquito bites. Chloroquine kills the parasite. COVID-19 is caused by a virus. There is no evidence that chloroquine will kill a virus.

Undeterred by this logic one of our crazier businessmen in Australia, Clive Palmer, is promoting the drug as a potential cure and is putting money into researching it. Presumably he has a vested interest in its marketing.

What is also disturbing is that one of our television stations is giving him a platform to promote the idea. It is the same station that entertains the rabid views of another nutter, Pauline Hanson.

Chloroquine is not effective against the newer strains of malaria in places like Africa but it is still used in Papua New Guinea. Hopefully people there realise the limitations of the drug.

Then again, if people like Palmer start buying up supplies of the drug, and this is happening overseas after Trump’s claim, there won’t be any chloroquine to buy in PNG anyway.

This is just one example of the sorts of misinformation and lies that are circulating about possible cures. People in Iran have died after being advised to drink ethanol.

Fake health experts, including real estate agents, evangelists and celebrities are all out there adding more and more confusion to the mix via social media.

And, of course and inevitably, there are conspiracy theories. The Murdoch press and its media outlets are spreading these as fast as it can.

Americans are being told that COVID-19 is a biological weapon released by the Chinese. Donald Trump is insisting on referring to it as “the Wuhan virus”, despite appeals by the G7 nations to cut it out.

The Chinese have countered this by saying it was cooked up in a CIA laboratory.

It seems that the one clear and trusted voice we all need is just not there.

In Papua New Guinea it doesn’t seem that these sorts of problems are a product of poor government response but rather an absence of data and no ability to improve this shortcoming in the short term.

Logic would tell us that the rampant and uncontrolled spread of the virus in Indonesia will inevitably spread to PNG. The first death from the virus has occurred in Sorong in West Papua for instance.

It is also highly likely, given PNG’s porous border with Papua that the virus has already arrived but has not been picked up yet
West Sepik is putting measures into place because it is a gateway to Papua. What is happening in Western, another gateway, is unknown but I suspect it is nothing at all.

The PNG government’s response so far seems to be National Capital District specific. That really needs to change fast.

What seems to be emerging in the USA and Australia is a feeling among citizens that they are largely on their own in this crisis.

That will probably be the situation in PNG. But, then again, in matters of health that has largely always been the case.

The only real advice for the PNG people is to be wary of those who reckon God is on the case and the sorcerers who will have a field day when people start dying.

Yesterday The Australian newspaper ran a two-page advertisement from Palmer on his inane Chloroquine theory. A reckless and socially reprehensible act - KJ

Arthur Williams

One article I appreciated was Polly Toynbee's 24 March piece in The Guardian: 'The middle class are about to discover the cruelty of Britain's benefits system'.

For the past 20 years many bloggers in various media have been slagging off the unfortunate poor of the UK as, 'scroungers' 'Sky sofa slobs' etc.

Now with the advent of this C-Virus many will, for the first time, in their life be very happy to receive financial benefits from the 'nanny state' as so many had called it until now.

Interesting to me is the fact that the UK government realises that the normal very low weekly social benefits they paid are not enough for the average family to exist.

They are offering up to 80% of one's recent pay level. The only cap on the amount to be paid is £2,500 per month which I guess they are unwittingly admitting is a 'living wage' for the once ignorant yuppy bloggers.

Philip Kai Morre

I tend to think that even though COVID-19 is known to be a pandemic, PNG is a non issue where we don't have any as yet.

One confirmed case (now sent to Australia) is an isolated issue involving a foreigner. It's slowing down. God is greater than coronavirus and we should not make a big issue.

The biggest problem PNG is facing are the psychiatric and psychological problems the young people are experiencing.

Mental health is a pandemic in PNG and drug abuse is a contributing factor according to a medical Symposium in Alotau some years ago.

80 percent of the psychiatric patients at Laloki are drug related and we don't not have specialists and facilities to deal with the growing psycho-social and medical problems.

UNDCP stated that almost 30 percent of the young generation in PNG are drug addicts and this is known to be pandemic because it represent almost 1 - 2 million people.

The drug problem is the second biggest problem in the world apart from arms because it affects millions of people and PNG is far worse. PNG needs mental hospital in main towns and cities to deal with the growing demand.

There is a lot of killings and sex crimes going on because its not normal people doing that but abnormal human beings acting out of frustration and angry in a risky and venerable social and economic environment.

Government has to seriously look into this issue.

Alphonse Aime

Totally agree with Scott regarding the points raised. I hope this lesson brought about by coronavirus will trigger a real desire by the authorities to invest in healthcare of our people.

That the health systems in the country be allocated enough money to provide the kind of services that is only verbalised in policies and politics.

Priscilla Winfrey

Every single thought I had was beautifully written here. Thank you. Share this far and wide everyone!

Daniel Kumbon

Again another powerful message bro. Literacy (reading and writing) comes into play now more than ever, although ignored by the government. People are reading prime minister James Marape's Facebook posts and press statements.

People are reading every article to find out the latest on the spread of the pandemic and to find out the cures and measures in place to fight and slow down the onslaught.

And the village people are carrying on with life as they've always done unaware of everything that is happening outside of their habitats. The army must make sure all urban dwellers are tested and checked before they enter a village.

You are right, our doctors and army personnel are ready to fight the spread of this pandemic, no question about their abilities...but are they properly resourced?

I heard in the hausman never to 'excrete' in the fireplace of a shelter in the deep forests. You never know, you might return to it when it rains and may have to dig up your own shit before you make a fire to warm yourself.

How wise my Huli/Opone ancestors were.

Lindsay F Bond

Is it fortunate too, a coincidence of the wet season?
But Scott, of the "all", is that including PO'N?

Gigil Marme

This is a well written article and an excellent analysis of the social realities of the current COVID-19 global pandemic.

Well done Scott! I hope the policy and decision makers take these words seriously.

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