MSF: Australia blocked early PNG vaccine
Mola: Soon people could die in parking lots

Covid in PNG: I hope Canberra understands

Covid png
Medical staff at a health clinic  (Alex Ellinghausen)

CHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - It is little short of astounding that the Australian government has, until now at least, utterly failed to grasp the potential scale of the catastrophe looming on our door step.

Once again, our government has been effectively "asleep at the wheel" when it comes to what he terms “our Pacific family".

The seeds of catastrophe were sown when the Papua New Guinea government decided, whether by design or default, that its response to the pandemic would be to effectively ignore it.

Certainly ineffectual efforts were made to encourage social distancing and isolation, but the basic response was apparently to hope it would go away.

For a long time this strategy appeared to work but now we know that all the while the disease was insidiously working its way into the population.

Experience has shown that the worst effects of the pandemic can only be ameliorated by swift and determined action to prevent its spread.

This patently did not happen in PNG. Given the nature of the country and its government's proven inability to deliver even basic health care much beyond the major centres, this was inevitable.

Bitter experience has also shown that there are still no really effective treatments and that severe cases will require massive intervention, including the large scale use of intensive care unit technologies to keep patients alive long enough to beat off the disease.

The demonstrated death rate with this disease is about 1.5% of all cases.

But this is so where the full array of modern medical technologies can be brought to bear upon those who are most severely affected.

A much larger percentage of patients will require hospitalisation, perhaps as high as 10% of those who contract the disease.

In the absence of intervention capacity, it is reasonable to expect a much higher death rate but no-one currently knows what this may be. PNG seems likely to be about to find out.

The Australian government will need to do much more than send a few container loads of the Astra Zeneca vaccine to PNG.

Specifically, it will need to send a small army of people to help distribute and deliver the vaccine.

To do this speedily and efficiently seems likely to require a significant military effort because only the military has the logistical capacity required, e.g., aircraft, helicopters, portable refrigeration and the capacity to put boots on the ground in very remote and inaccessible locations.

The much less severe and threatening Influenza epidemic of 1969-70 required the full scale mobilisation of all the resources available at the time.

Many kiaps, a small army of police, medical assistants and aid post orderlies rapidly mounted medical patrols across the country in an effort to find and treat people effected by the disease.

I was among them.

In those days, a shot of procaine penicillin could save people from certain death but this will not be the case with Covid-19.

I sincerely hope that those in Canberra understand the sheer scale of the task that confronts PNG if it is to exert effect control over Covid 19.

And I hope they understand they will not be able to achieve this without massive and immediate support from Australia.

If ever more proof were needed, it should be clear to our government that we cannot sit here on our huge island, fat, dumb and happy, while “our Pacific family" suffers the impact of this disease.

And this is not to mention climate change and various other modern ills that have been inflicted upon them by our collective action or inaction.

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