Think preventive medicine

Editorial

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill and Health Secretary Pascoe Kase made statements on two different occasions this week that, if followed through with action, should see realistic improvements in the public healthcare.
Speaking at the swearing in-in of the new board of the Kerema General Hospital and the opening of the new hospital mess, O’Neill said the Government was bypassing bureaucracy to directly fund public hospitals with the hope that services and patient care by those hospitals would be improved.
He is concerned that the existing systems of service delivery and financial management have not worked well for the health system.
Money that has been allocated by the Government to the Health Department for provincial hospitals in the past has not always got through.
As a former board member of the Goroka Base General Hospital, the prime minister is well aware of the many challenges faced by hospitals, many of which had to do with a lack of funding.
And the Health Department’s public service systems intended for the purpose of promoting or facilitating the smooth and efficient running of public hospitals has instead become an obstacle.
The Government is banking on the reforms in the health sector, including direct funding to hospitals and the establishment of provincial health authorities, to realise some long dreamed of change in the lives of people.
And positive results of such direct funding were evident to O’Neill, Health Minister Michael Malabag and other dignitaries to the Kerema General Hospital on Tuesday.
The prime minister had seen the state of the hospital soon after the 2012 elections and what he saw this week was a big improvement. There are better-equipped wards today and a rebuilding programme at the hospital is continuing.
These are results of the hospital getting direct funding from the Government and hopefully other provincial hospitals will learn from Kerema’s example.
Another shift in the public health system that must be vigorously promoted for was discussed by Health Secretary Kase at the medical symposium in Alotau, Milne Bay.
And that is to move away from giving priority and concentrating resources on curative health to giving prominence to preventive health.
This is not a proposition plucked from thin air but is both common sense and a lesson Papua New Guinea can learn from the mistakes of other developing countries.
“One of the mistakes currently killing the budgets of developing countries is a focus on curative medicine while neglecting the power of preventive medicine and health promotion in reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases,” Kase said.
PNG has had a long history of reacting to public health crises, some of which were directly linked to the public’s ignorance or apathy and failure to adhere to healthy living.
The HIV/AIDS, cholera and tuberculosis epidemics that have scared the public and challenged public health officials in the recent past are the best examples of what can result from such ignorance and apathy.
The rise in cancer and other non-communicable disease also point to the need for a concerted effort by the disease control and public health sections of the health department and the provincial hospitals, as well as other stakeholders to relentless promote healthy living and healthy lifestyles.
Tobacco and betel nut have been linked to certain types of cancers yet there is no indication that the consumption of these substances will decrease. On the contrary, the use of tobacco, especially among young people is rampant, according to the secretary.
The imposition of a tobacco law and its effective enforcement would hopefully help in the government’s health promotion agenda.
Because of the country’s poor and struggling health infrastructure, the emphasis on preventive medicine looks to be by far the best route to take. Therefore, wherever possible, the Government should strengthen support for partners who are engaged in healthy lifestyle campaigns.
Many of these organisations have made significant inputs in education and awareness so far which have benefited a lot of people in areas where they work.
The Government should also shift away from providing large amounts of money for curative health services to a greater emphasis on preventive health such as like education and, if necessary, legislation.

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