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Namah challenges Marape: 'Where’s the miracle cure’

Opposition leader Belden Namah
Opposition leader Belden Namah says Covid may be killing scores of Papua New Guineans, “but that has yet to be proven”

KEITH JACKSON

PORT MORESBY – Papua New Guinea’s opposition leader Belden Namah has called upon the Marape government to halt the use of any Covid-19 vaccines until a comprehensive report has been tabled in parliament.

Namah said Marape has a duty to present a report on the effects of Covid, the government's measures to protect the population, an accounting of funds allocated, and an update on the PNG-originated vaccine to which the prime minister granted K 10.2 million.

"Until this report is made public or presented to parliament, Papua New Guineans must not be exposed to any vaccine test," Namah said.

"PNG does not need any vaccines because the prime minister has already announced our own 'miracle cure'.

“He allocated K10.2 million towards that effort."

Namah urged the prime minister and the team of doctors at NiuGini Biomed to come forward with its vaccine, which company chairman Dr Bomai Kerenga said last October was being developed by “a team of highly qualified and talented medical doctors and scientists.”

Kerenga said the team was looking for a Covid-19 cure among generic drugs.

“We need this information to develop vaccine and identify drugs to repurpose for treatment against Covid-19,” he said.

At the time, Marape stated, “I am certain that we can find new medicines amidst all this biodiversity in our blessed land.

“To my critics; don’t think I am stupid. I know exactly what I want to do for my country.”

Namah challenged Marape and Niugini Biomed to start rolling out the vaccine, suggesting that the prime minister, his cabinet ministers and “those so-called doctors who have discovered this miracle cure” should be the first to receive the vaccine.

He said Covid may be killing scores of Papua New Guineans, “but that has yet to be proven.”

“The government needs to provide evidence that people diagnosed with Covid-19 really have it and not just some pre-existing medical condition or some seasonal virus.

"It is well known that viruses mutate and are more or less effective in certain atmospheric conditions. We live in a hot, humid climate near the equator. These conditions can and may have impacted the virulence of the virus.

"Until we know for certain, we cannot just go ahead and copy everything the first world is doing.

"The team of experts who have been engaged in this from the start should provide us a comprehensive report on the effects of Covid-19 and the response to it by this government and what are the results of those actions.

"This is the sanest and the most responsible position to take for any good government."

So far Papua New Guinea has recorded less than 1,000 Covid cases and only 10 deaths.

There is no evidence to verify widespread rumours that Papua New Guineans have resistance to the disease or that many Covid cases are due to other causes.

There is high mortality in PNG but no reliable data about causes of death because registration is inadequate and health data is gathered for only a small proportion of deaths.

The health system also suffers from a critical shortage of doctors and nurses

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Peter Dwyer

In October last year a team of PNG university scientists asserted that they had developed a package of already known drugs that would cure Covid-19.

There were no publications, there had been no tests but they had convinced PM James Marape that they were on to a good thing.

Marape recommended through the National Executive Council that their newly registered company, Niugini Biomed Ltd, be awarded K10.2m.

There was much negative comment on social media and, it seems, much back-pedaling in government circles.

When the grant was finally approved in November it was channeled toward rebuilding laboratories at the University and not directly to the directors of Niugini Biomed Ltd.

In mid-January a small Tok Pisin item on ABC News revealed that the grant had not yet been awarded because, the health minister said it was necessary to follow the proper process.

Opposition leader Belden Namah is right to ask about the state of play with respect to the promised K10.2m and what was almost certainly a nonsensical assertion that a cure for Covid 19 (not a vaccine) had been found by PNG university scientists.

He is also right to ask the government to provide a comprehensive report on all aspects of the pandemic, including expenditure, in PNG.

The Office of the Controller oversees a very informative website with regular updates of cases and with summary situation reports at intervals of two-week.

For several months, however, government has remained distanced from Covid-19 concerns.

Marape himself has been silent since the apparent embarrassment of the publicized grant to Niugini Biomed Ltd.

His silence may be particularly significant with respect to vaccination.

As elsewhere in the world, there are people in PNG who voice strong opposition to the need for, or the desirability of, Covid-19 vaccination.

Some of that opposition is based in nonsensical conspiracy theories.

Some is based in pessimistic interpretations of the cautionary tales that come from informed sources.

At present, in PNG, however, some of the antagonism to vaccines and vaccination is tangled up with negative responses to what Australia or some Australians seem to be doing.

Many in PNG have been unimpressed by the Australian response to news of a Chinese-developed fisheries industrial park in Daru.

On Western Province social media correspondents ask ("Who authorised Australia to force C19 vaccine on PNG? PNG People Must Refuse This Now!") or comment ("We aren't guinea pigs or aren't primitives").

Or Ben Packham, reporter with The Australian, fails to do his homework before posting to Twitter that he’s "hearing PNG PM James Marape is in isolation with suspected COVID-19 infection".

Marape, who did not have Covid-19, reposted the ‘fake news’ to his own Facebook page and received 84 comments, including:

"Another propaganda to introduce Covid-19 vaccine to PNG".

"It's typical bullshit from Australian Ben Packham. Australia has its agenda to control a sovereign nation that they care less about rather than which they do to benefit its own interests."

Like opposition leaders everywhere (in countries where there are opposition leaders) Belden Namah has mixed sensible statements of government failures with uninformed statements about risks associated with Covid-19 and vaccination.

There are, however, many thoughtful voices and images appearing on social media.

In the past few days, photographs of two boat loads of people searching for bodies along the Ok Tedi village and nearly everyone is wearing a face mask.

A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist who is "tired of listening and reading about all kinds of conspiracy theories against vaccinations" puts up his "hands to be one of the first ones to be vaccinated if Covid-19 vaccine becomes available in PNG".

And "my family and I will get vaccinated for Covid-19. For those dumb educated anti-vaxers, if you don’t want to get vaccinated that’s your goddamn business. Don’t force your useless scam views on us who have chosen to remain quiet".

There are many voices and many sensible opinions out there. They need support.

It is time for PM Marape and his government to speak up.
They should respond to the sensible matters raised by Namah.

They should be in the forefront of providing informed and sensible advice to the people.

Through much of 2020, PM Marape communicated often and well about the progress of, and responses to, Covid-19 in PNG.

Then he went quiet.

It would be good if, once again, he took a leading and positive role in what remains a very serious matter.

Talking about vaccination would be good place to start.

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