Do right by PNG, Aussies told

Focus, Normal

The National, Friday 26th April 2013

 DRAWING on events far from our (Australia’s) shores close to a century ago, we lay claim to a particular combination of traits – mateship, pulling together, and brave sacrifice.

Anzac Day should also prompt us to look at those actions closer to home that help define us as good mates, ready to pull together for a common cause. 

I am talking about the importance of our relationship with Papua New Guinea – Australia’s closest neighbour. 

Our countries have enduring ties due to proximity, people, and history – and that includes shared experiences in theatres of war such as Kokoda.

The genuine warmth of the relationship is evidenced by the assistance our diggers received from ordinary Papua New Guineans during World War Two (some of whom we continue to dub “angels”), and our enduring gratitude for that.

So it is a natural expression of Australia’s deep-rooted cultural values to continue to engage closely with PNG, and to assist our friends to meet the complex challenges they face. 

Together we can build bridges – sometimes life-giving ones.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce is currently in PNG, and I visited Port Moresby earlier this month.

 During that trip I was able to deepen my personal engagement with the people of PNG, as well as with some of the many Australians who live and work there.

Importantly, I was also able to witness how partnerships between the Australian and PNG governments, non-governmental organisations and local communities are improving the lives of Papua New Guineans.

One of the most pressing challenges facing Papua New Guinea and other countries in our immediate region is the prevalence of tuberculosis. 

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major problem around the world, yet does not seem to claim as many headlines as malaria or HIV. 

According to World Health Organisation 2011 data, global TB hotspots include many countries in Africa (from Sierra Leone to South Africa), as well as Bangladesh, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

In the Asia Pacific region, TB is a bigger killer than malaria, killing more than 200,000 people in the region in 2011.

In PNG, reducing the spread of TB is a difficult challenge – the remoteness of some villages and lack of advanced health infrastructure in these areas, coupled with the difficulty of patients sticking to a six-month course of medication, has seen drug-resistant strains of the disease gain a foothold.

The TB challenge in our immediate region is an urgent one but the situation is improving. 

PNG is making encouraging headway on the issue. 

The government of PNG (through the Department of Health) has increased efforts, in cooperation with organisations including the Global Fund, World Health 

Organisation, AusAID and international NGOs such as World Vision. 

Australia’s aid programme is a key part of this effort.

In the last few years, Papua New Guinea’s national TB programme has seen the STOP TB strategy rolled out in every province and tens of thousands of people have been enrolled and successfully treated for TB.

On the ground in TB-affected communities, World Vision’s approach, as a partner in this programme, involves helping to build and strengthen local systems to improve health and well-being – this is a good example of assistance delivering sustainable improvements.

TB detection rates are up, allowing more and more people to receive free treatment. 

Things are improving, but a long-term commitment is needed.

Improved health facilities, better community-based monitoring of treatment regimes, and more research into cost-effective diagnostic technology are all needed.

My hope is that World Vision – together with the PNG and Australian governments, private and corporate partners and other agencies – can overcome the challenges and profoundly impact the lives of people in need in PNG for the better.

Essentially, it is the right 

thing to do – working together with our closest neighbour for a better future. 

It is our responsibility and it is in our interest. 

Just as the diggers were helped by Papua New Guineans wanting to do the right thing, Australia needs to keep on doing the right thing by them.