Funding delay costing lives

Editorial

PAPUA New Guineans are dying from curable diseases every week but the most frustrating aspect of their deaths is that all government hospitals are ill-equipped and lack specialist medical staff.
And to make matters worse, the hospitals have run out of medicines.
It was revealed on Monday that the current delay in Health Department funding has resulted in a shortage of medical drugs throughout the country.
Deputy Health Secretary Dr Paison Dakulala confirmed that the funding delay and distribution of medicines were the two major reasons why government hospitals were experiencing this shortage of medicines.
Dakulala’s statement has been disputed by his boss, Health Secretary Pascoe Kase, while Finance Secretary Ken Ngangan says it is more of an administrative issue than a financial one.
And while the Health Department is sorting out the issue, many patients are reportedly being sent by the hospitals with prescriptions to purchase medicines at private hospital pharmacies. Hospital sources say some patients are even asked to buy medicines from private pharmacies and bring them back to the hospitals for treatment.
Hopefully, the situation will be resolved as soon as possible so that ordinary Papua New Guineans can get free medicines at government hospitals and not have to spend their meager earnings on expensive drugs at private pharmacies.
While the shortage of medical drugs is a short-term issue, government hospitals continue to be ill-equipped and under-resourced, which affects their capabilities to provide quality healthcare.
Currently, most of the public hospitals lack specilised medical equipment such as CT scans, ultrasound machines, MRI scans and digital x-ray machines.
The Health Department must ensure that these hospitals have well trained and skilled biomedical engineers, managers and technicians to ensure all these medical equipment are always up and running for our doctors and nurses to use to save lives through early detection and prevention of the root cause of illnesses and medical disorders.
As well, the health authorities must ensure that hospitals can pay for visiting experienced foreign medical specialists where we do not have and at the same time utilise them on either long or short term contracts to build capacity and have these skills transferred to local specialists, such as general and heart surgeons and cancer treatment specialist doctors and nurses.
They must also ensure that skilled local specialists are well looked after and retained for a least five to 10 years with binding employment contracts.
With all of these the Government must be prepared to provide sufficient funds annually to building capacity for our current primary healthcare system.
The Government must also be prepared to commit and remained committed to allocating a healthy budget every year to maintain and sustain a quality healthcare system. In that way, ordinary Papua New Guineans can fully benefit from its free healthcare policy.
In theory, money should no longer be an issue with the upturn in the economy spurred by the production of liquefied natural gas and other resource projects.
Nonetheless, our political leaders need to put aside their differences of how to fix loopholes in our primary healthcare system and commit to pushing secondary health to a new level.
Yes, there are major problems and challenges in our primary healthcare system, which one cannot deny.
However, to get to the secondary level of health care, which focuses on maintaining a quality healthcare system, we need to start fixing the management red tape to delivery primary healthcare system properly and at the same time kick-start secondary healthcare systems.
Some may argue that the focus should be on improving the primary healthcare system first but there is no reason why the Government and its health authorities cannot also kick-start building on secondary health.
And for that to happen, our hospitals will need to have strong, committed and visionary leadership in the new provincial hospital authorities to ensure that the Government’s policy initiatives and programmes for a quality healthcare system become a reality in the long term.
The ongoing management and operational issues faced by several of these new provincial hospital authorities do not bode well for the delivery of an efficient healthcare system in those provinces.
These hospital authorities need to get their act together while the other authorities must avoid these pitfalls and start delivering on their agenda.

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