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Covid’s silent dead: PNG’s unknown victims

Win Nicholas - "The number of deaths is unprecedented. We haven’t seen deaths like this before"

| DevPolicy Blog

“Unbelievably too many unprecedented deaths of the loved ones. My heartfelt condolences to the grieving family in this time of sorrow” - recent Facebook post by one of Win’s friends

“Prominent public servants that have spent countless years serving this beautiful province, Enga, are dying.… Over the last one week, we have lost six people that have dedicated their entire life, with kids growing up as Engans. God have mercy on us” - recent Facebook post by one of Win’s friends

PORT MORESBY – Many people aren’t tested, but I personally suspect we are seeing Covid-induced deaths.

Some we definitely know are Covid-19 – one of my colleagues was tested, had Covid and died.

But with many, we think they had Covid, but they also had underlying conditions, so we can’t be sure.

We call them the silent dead.

The number of deaths is unprecedented. We haven’t seen deaths like this before.

More than 10 people I know died in a period of just over one day.

Every day people are posting condolence messages on Facebook. These are people we know – good family friends, both in Enga and in Port Moresby.

I’m from Enga. Wabag, Enga’s capital, is now a Covid hot spot. I’ve spoken to a senior health officer in Wabag, and he told me that 10 people died from Covid in September alone.

The Wabag General Hospital is facing staffing and medical capacity issues.

More than 100 medical staff at Wabag Hospital are reported to have been infected by Covid and most of them are reluctant to attend to cases.

There are no isolation facilities for Covid patients so they are forced to stay out of the hospital.

The hospital is running out of oxygen, which is the main treatment for a Covid patient.

Many cases are left unattended.

The Catholic hospital in Enga is full to capacity. People are waiting in queues, they are not getting the sort of treatment they should.

Covid is now widespread, not only in Enga but in Port Moresby.

But many people still think things are normal. Everyone is out and about. People don’t care.

I am seeing many people gathering and moving around in public places without putting in necessary Covid measures, thus posing greater risk.

Most of these people are not vaccinated and the chance of them being infected is very high.

Unlike during the period when Covid was first detected in PNG and strict measures were introduced, the government’s response to the pandemic is now scaled down.

Sadly the rate of vaccination in the county is very low compared to the rest of the world.

This poses great risks, especially to those with underlying sicknesses.

The scaled-down response is undermining support for vaccination, especially the lack of testing, as many who die do not get a definitive Covid verdict.

Ever since the onset of Covid, people have thought that the pandemic won’t be widespread and is not that deadly.

Most people were sceptical when the first Covid related deaths in the country were announced.

Some even claimed that the pandemic in badly affected countries was fake news.

Many believe that the virus isn’t a risk in tropical climates like PNG and that the chances of infection are low. Most seem to forget that Covid is a deadly disease.

Most are influenced by conspiracies promoted through social media. At some churches, pastors have been addressing their congregations on the dangers of Covid vaccination.

In remote parts of the country, it’s business as usual for the populace. Basic government services are lacking and vaccination is not a great concern.

I got vaccinated yesterday at work, but many of my colleagues didn’t. Only about 30 out of 200 staff took up the vaccination offer. That’s the level of response.

I told them the entire world is getting vaccinated. I don’t know why people are not. People are still believing conspiracy theories, or they are just not convinced.

We’re the working class [people with formal sector jobs]. We’re meant to show the way, we should be the first ones to be vaccinated.

Win Nicholas was a former student of Devpol Director Stephen Howes at the Australian National University and a lecturer in economics at the University of PNG. He currently works at the Bank of PNG and relayed this article to Stephen by phone in his personal capacity


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Lindsay F Bond

Sorry business but it should be the main topic here too.
Yes, governance is a case to confront but now tok Covid.
See: https://theconversation.com/png-and-fiji-were-both-facing-covid-catastrophes-why-has-one-vaccine-rollout-surged-and-the-other-stalled-169356

Paul Oates

Until and unless those purveying false claims about vaccination are taken to court and charged, those selfish people seeking publicity and kudos will continue to confuse those who don't have the opportunity or education to know what the true situation really is.

The media is just as guilty by pushing sensationalism to sell stories instead of clearly presenting the truth and reputable medical knowledge.

A government's responsibility is to protect their own people. This responsibility and those responsible must be held accountable.

Yes Chis, contrasting the present clearly ineffectual response with the past effective action seems worth mentioning. But if those now involved don't know anything about the past, how can anyone learn from it?

Chris Overland

The willingness of many people all over the world to believe that the vaccine, any vaccine, presents a bigger threat to their health than the virus itself, is one of the most perplexing and frustrating aspects of the pandemic.

The evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective is simply overwhelming, yet this is disbelieved by people who all too credulously accept social media reports that the vaccines cause harm.

There are reports in Australia of people about to be intubated in ICU begging to be vaccinated and having to be told that it far too late for this to occur. Many of this people go on to a quite hideous death.

In PNG, it seems that many people who have not even had a chance to be vaccinated are dying, along with those whose ignorance or hesitancy has caused them to reject the one thing that is likely to save them.

I guess we will never know the true toll of the virus in PNG. There is no ability or willingness to accurately collect reliable statistics.

We can be quite certain that many, many deaths will go either unreported or wrongly attributed to influenza or some other respiratory illness.

Win Nicolas is describing an unfolding tragedy in which those in a position to do something to at least ameliorate it seem to mostly be passive spectators.

If the colonial administration in PNG during the 1969-70 Hong Kong flu epidemic had taken the same approach it would rightly have been condemned as inhumane and negligent.

As things stand, the current national and provincial governments of PNG would seem to merit such condemnation.

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