THE cholera outbreak update released by Health Minister Sasa Zibe on Jan 15 is alarming for two reasons.
Firstly, the data released by Minister Zibe shows that the epidemic continues to spread in the three provinces of Morobe, Madang and East Sepik, and will very likely cross into other neighbouring provinces and eventually also to Port Moresby.
Secondly, the National Government’s allocation of K3 million to combat the spread of this bacteria-borne illness is grossly insufficient. The three provinces have asked for about K10 million each to adequately fight and contain this outbreak that is threatening to put back the nation’s social indicators by at least five years. Each will have to be content with only K1 million. Surely, the task force in each province can do little with this meagre funding.
Either the National Government is turning a blind eye to a very grave situation, or the bureaucrats at the Department of Health are not presenting all the facts to Cabinet for an informed decision to be made about funding.
Let’s look at the data released by Mr Zibe five days ago. In Morobe, cholera in Morobe has spread to two new areas since December 2009. These are Bukawa and Mutzing. Cholera spread to Mutzing just before the Christmas period while the spread to Bukawa is more recent, the report says.
It says the Angau Cholera Treatment Centre is receiving nine to 10 cases every day, with many coming from Lae city and also from as far as the Nadzab airport area.
In Morobe, the cumulative total number of cases reported so far is 541, with nine deaths reported through Angau Cholera Treatment Centre and 19 deaths reported from the communities.
In Madang, the situation is much the same as Morobe where cholera continues to spread to other areas of the province. The latest situation report received from Madang shows that 72 new cases were reported between Jan 5 and 12. The report says the Cholera Treatment Centre is treating about three cases per day in Madang, and the cumulative total cases for Madang is 818, with no deaths reported so far.
Authorities there believe cholera is now affecting five districts out of the total six districts in the province.
It says cholera cases are being treated at Gusap with 30 patients recorded to date. In Bogia district, four cases were reported and have been referred to Modilon Hospital for treatment. These cases came from the Kayan area which is a transit point for people travelling between Madang and East Sepik.
In East Sepik, cholera continues to spread within the two districts of Angoram and Wewak including Murik Lakes, with the possibility that cholera may have already spread to Ambunti district. The total number of cases reported to date in East Sepik is 527, with 16 deaths in the Angoram area.
Of the K3 million released from the Department of National Planning at the end of last year, only K1,150,000 has so far been released to the three affected provinces ( Morobe K370,000; Madang K401,000; East Sepik K379,000).
Unaffected provinces have received K50,000 each to put in place necessary plans for cholera outbreak response, including public awareness.
Clearly, this is not enough. The Health Department predicts in this report that the spread of cholera will continue to other provinces unless the government at both national and provincial levels provides adequate resources to contain the outbreak.
This boils down to money. Can the National Government give the amount of funding the task forces in each of the affected provinces are asking for, so that every conceivable effort is made to halt the spread of this disease any further? We believe the money can be found. It is critical that the task forces are fully supported.
PNG’s social indicators and human development indices do not compare very well with some of our own neighbours in the Pacific. Experts predict that if drastic measures are not taken to contain the spread of cholera in the country, our social indicators will be put back by at least five years.
Given that we are behind in meeting the Millennium Development Goals by the 2015 target date, failure to adequately address the cholera outbreak will be unacceptable.
While we call on the Government to increase funding, we urge the public to continue to observe personal hygiene in toilet use and waste disposal. The fight against cholera will be won with everyone contributing.