The Cubans are coming

Editorial

THE O’Neill Government is finally delivering on its promise to recruit Cuban doctors for rural hospitals in Papua New Guinea.
This follows Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s historic state visit to Cuba last week where a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the two governments which paves the way for PNG-Cuba health diplomacy.
The MoU caters for five categories of assistance, including health workforce and medicines, medical supplies and technology.
Under health workforce, 20 to 30 primary health Cuban doctors will be deployed to at least 10 district hospitals in PNG where there are no doctors. A cancer specialist will be deployed to Angau Memorial Hospital in Lae while some biomedical technologists will also be recruited. Cuba will provide professors for the Government’s proposed new PNG Medical and Health Sciences University.
Under medicines, medical supplies and technology, Cuba will assist PNG with medical drugs and vaccines for general medical diseases and non-communicable drugs in diabetes, cancer and hypertension. It will also assist PNG with medical supplies and diagnostic technologies.
While the Government believes the healthcare assistance programme will benefit PNG, critics such as Prof Glen Mola of the University of Papua New Guinea is highly critical of the plan to recruit Cuban doctors, which comes amid budget cuts to the country’s health services.
Mola, the head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the UPNG School of Medicine, told ABC Radio that he had worked with Cuban doctors in developing countries all over the world and found their skills were often lacking.
Mola’s argument that PNG had its own highly trained doctors, many of whom were unemployed due to the budget cuts, needs to be taken seriously by the political leadership.
He also pointed out that the Government had cut funding to all the church agency health services, which will certainly affect their delivery of healthcare services.
While the Cuban assistance programme is expected to enhance healthcare services in the districts and rural areas, Christian churches will continue to play a significant role in primary healthcare service delivery in this country.
The Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Seventh-day Adventist, Nazarene and other Christian denominations account for more than 50 per cent of the country’s health services.
Until only a few years ago, these churches were responsible for everything from building infrastructure, procurement and distribution of medical drugs and equipment and workers’ salaries and wages.
In recent times, the Government has taken over the responsibility of salaries and in some cases allocated operational grants to some of these vital establishments throughout the country.
However, what was a welcome move by the Government became problematic for the churches, which were not receiving their funding on time.
The issue first came to light recently when the Catholic Health Services (CHS) voiced concern that government funding for church health service providers was not being received on time.
Despite budget shortfalls and bureaucratic delays, it is heartening to note that the Government will continue its partnership with the churches to improve health services in the rural and remote areas.
Indeed, the Government and Christian churches have built a good partnership, which must be nurtured with greater understanding.
It is a known fact that the government bureaucratic processes are too cumbersome and time consuming, which result in prolonged delays in the release of funds.
What may be considered normal system delays by a government institution could easily cause serious disruptions to the provision of churches health services.
The churches have previously spoken out on this critical funding issue, which is faced by many other institutions that are dependent on the public purse for the provision of services.
Besides the churches, there are other institutions including government agencies which had been facing similar funding problems.
The call by the Catholic Health Services was a timely reminder to the Government to crack the whip on the bureaucrats in Waigani to ensure timely payments are made to the churches.
Just as Prime Minister O’Neill warned on the bureaucratic delays in the payment of Tuition Fee Free funds, the Government needs to ensure that churches get their funds on time to continue paying salaries of their health workers who in turn provide these vital services to our rural people.

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