By SINCLAIRE SOLOMON
THE biggest shipment to date of Australian medical supplies for cholera-hit Daru and villages of the Fly River was delivered at the weekend where health officials said the disease has been contained on the island but is spreading to the mainland.
A total 2,845kg of emergency supplies was airlifted from Port Moresby on an Australian aid agency, AusAID, charter on Saturday, taking total aid since Nov 11, when the outbreak was reported, to about A$1 million.
The Australian government had also provided emergency experts in Daru to complement personnel from the Health Department and the World Health Organisation.
Health Department officials on the island said 30 people had died from cholera, a bacterial infection typically spread through contaminated water. But they feared the death toll could be as high as 100, confirming the figure suggested by Daru Catholic mission priest Fr Vinod D’Mello last week,
They said up to 70 patients per day were presenting themselves at Daru General Hospital, which serves a large and difficult-to-access region near the mouth of the Fly River. As of last Friday, some 800 villagers had been diagnosed with the disease.
As of Saturday, three medical teams, which included two doctors provided by the church of the Latter-Day Saints, visited the Fly River villages to treat suspected cases, checked water supplies and carried out awareness.
Communication with Daru, where a control centre had been set up at the police station opposite the hospital, had been made more difficult since last Thursday when landline communication with the rest of the country was cut, Daru police said.
Western communications officer Dr Naomi Pomat told AAP in Daru response to the disease had been slow because of an early misdiagnosis.
“The first test presented for typhoid. Then, the clinical staff realised the presentation was wrong and more likely cholera,” she said.
Villagers travelling by sea to Daru, and other islands in the mouth of the Fly River, have aided the rapid spread of the deadly bacteria that caused diarrhoea-like symptoms.
“Settlements on the island are very crowded. The influx of people, especially from the surrounding villages, has increased the incidence.
“Because of the high water table on Daru, you cannot build good toilets, and poor sanitation and access to water has also fuelled the spread.
“There is a big problem here, but it is not just from now – it goes back to the colonial days.”
WHO representative in Daru Geoffrey Clark said cholera on the island was under control and the islanders were responding well to the awareness campaigns that had been carried out.
He said efforts were now focused on reducing its spread along the north and south banks of the Fly River.
“There has been an excellent coordinated response since cholera was first reported.”
Cholera would usually make people only mildly sick, but up to 10% of patients had developed severe illness.
It is transmitted by water contaminated by bacteria from an infected person or food contaminated by dirty water, soiled hands or flies.