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THE National Government yesterday officially declared a public health emergency for disease-stricken Menyamya, Wasu in Tewai-Siassi, Lae and affected parts of Gulf and Eastern Highlands provinces.
The move follows a visit by representatives of the Government, Health Department, World Health Organisation and AusAID to Lae this week to obtain first hand situation reports from the provincial health command post about surveillance and containment of the outbreaks.
The outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and influenza have reportedly claimed dozens of lives, with hundreds more affected.
All schools and prepared food markets in Lae have been ordered closed as a precautionary measure, in an attempt to contain the spread of the outbreaks (see story on Page 2).
Despite the Health Department’s submission earlier this week for K8 million to tackle the outbreaks, only K1 million has been committed by the Government for this purpose.
The public health emergency, which was announced by Health and HIV/AIDS Minister Sasa Zibe yesterday, will give more powers to health authorities to carry out a full-scale containment exercise.
“Under this direction, all health professionals, Government agencies and NGOs in this life-saving mission are empowered to improve hygiene and sanitation and contain the diseases in affected areas,” Mr Zibe said.
Under the measure, health inspectors will:
*Ensure pit toilets are built and used in the settlements and villages and that the surroundings are clean;
*Inspect and close facilities such as restaurants or kai bars that do not comply with sanitation standards;
*Ensure the public and those who are sick strictly observe quarantine processes which would involve detection, treatment and hygiene awareness programmes;and
*Restrict movement by people.
A helicopter will be on standby at the Lae command post to facilitate distribution of supplies which include much-needed medical and other essential supplies to remote villages.
Officials in Morobe province indicated that greater powers to contain cholera and dysentery (caused by the shigella bacteria) outbreaks were required to contain the spread before more lives were lost.
Mr Zibe also strongly reminded health workers and community members that it was important for them to be protected.
“You the are at the frontline in this fight and you must ensure you stay healthy by maintaining the highest possible standards of hygiene not only to stop the disease spreading but from you getting infected,” Mr Zibe said.
Health secretary Dr Clement Malau said that an environmental health inspection survey was currently being conducted in villages along the Bumbu River.
After his visit to Lae, Dr Malau praised health teams working in the area and for the support of the World Health Organisation, AusAID, Medecins San Frontieres and other private bodies.
As of yesterday morning, figures obtained for Menyamya showed there have been 393 known cases of dysentery, with 29 deaths reported.
There have been 242 cases of cholera so far with 18 deaths, while 3,099 cases of influenza have been reported, with 51 deaths.
People in Morobe or the general public who require medical assistance and information and other updates can contact Angau Hospital CEO Dr Polapoi Chalau on 473 2205/2113 or Dr Likei Theo (provincial health officer on 473 1660).