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Ambulances under threat as money runs out

Paramedics attend to a patient on an air ambulance flight (St John Ambulance)
Paramedics attend to a patient on an air ambulance flight (St John Ambulance)

| The Guardian | Judith Nielson Institute | Extract

PORT MORESBY - Papua New Guinea’s main ambulance service – St John Ambulance – was allocated no money in the Marape government’s budget for 2021.

St John Ambulance runs a fleet in Port Moresby and across provincial centres. For much of the country it is the only ambulance service.

On a budget already reduced by more than two-thirds, St John has been forced to cut the number of ambulances operating in and around Port Moresby and to run fewer shifts.

There are concerns the service could shut down over Christmas. Management has even considered selling some ambulances to keep going.

The St John budget was K10 million in 2019 but this was slashed in 2020 to just K3 million, of which only K1 million has been received.

When the -controversial PNG budget for 2021 was passed by parliament in November without the opposition present, zero kina was allocated to St John.

“We are beyond disappointed that [an] oversight resulted in public ambulance service funding being entirely left out from the government’s 2021 budget,” St John said in a statement.

“We are still determining how we will continue any of our lifesaving services to the public.”

The PNG treasury department said the funding cut was an oversight – the budget was hastily passed with the government fearing a court injunction from the opposition – but despite promises no funding has been restored.

The chair of the National St John Council, Jean Kekedo, has asked prime minister James Marape to immediately restore the service’s budget, saying without it more than 100 frontline ambulance staff will be laid off or lose shifts over Christmas.

“Reducing services isn’t taken lightly, the financial position of St John is a huge concern, St John cannot continue to borrow money to cover costs to provide services for and on behalf of the government,” St John said.

St John has provided an ambulance service in PNG for more than 60 years. It runs 25 ambulances in Port Moresby, Kokopo, Central, Morobe, Simbu and Madang provinces.

It also worked with Tropicai and Manolos aviation to provide air ambulance services.


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Lindsay F Bond

Moribund is the word, not of the St John Ambulance of St John International and not only of the Marape-led government, but of the whole gathering of members-elect in their Haus Tambaran enclave that acts almost as an autoclave against reality.

PM Marape, pardon please if this note appears to you as just another social media diatribe, especially when you have so strenuously called on the PNG population to be gracious one to another.

But moribund is an accurate summation of the delivery of health services by the PNG government, including the St John Ambulance.

Governor Gary Juffa has written an endearing note about his friend during childhood days. That friend has since died.

Death of young people is so much a reality in PNG that perhaps an ambulance or several will not have much effect on the sale of body bags. But who among politicians wants to go back to how life was 'bipor'?

Speaking of Gov Juffa, with origins near Kokoda, I was pleased to meet the chair of St John Council, Jean Kekedo, having heard her mother ( a teacher) at Popondetta in 1968.

The story of Gov Juffa recalls the humanity that sustains community and life itself in every nation.

So is PNG history of 2020 to be a low point in graft and moribundity?

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