PNG must step up vaccinations


The Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is now sadly affecting Papua New Guinea, those who have been mislead by the social media and gossip now need to take Covid-19 seriously to avoid what could be the greatest man-made disaster in PNG history, Dr Livingstone Tavul, Fr Phil Gibbs, Prof Glen Mola, Dr Martin Daimen and Sir Peter Barter write

To see pictures of bodies lying outside hospitals in the Highlands in body bags due to over flowing morgues, shortages of oxygen cylinders being flown in to meet the demand and turning away patients with other afflictions is disgraceful.
The reluctance of many health workers to be vaccinated is another concern as they themselves are at risk along with their colleagues, families and the general public.
Unless the Government take on the challenge to get millions vaccinated and observe the restrictions as directed by Health Department and National Control Centre to force the implementation of the protective protocols the situation in PNG will continue to get worse.
Recent data provides a projected spread of the Coronavirus and the Delta variant compared to Fiji.
Since this data was collected by Fr Gibbs several weeks ago, the situation in PNG has
Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama celebrated the success of 96 per cent of eligible population with one jab and 80 per cent who are now fully vaccinated.
Whilst celebrating Fiji Day, he thanked every Fijian who had helped, including the doctors, nurses, members of the disciplined forces, lorry drivers, the churches, temples and mosques who had unselfishly worked hard over a relatively short time to achieve what he said was an example to the rest of the world.
He went on to say they would not have made this journey together with compassion, patience and vigilance and the Fiji government would re-open borders on Dec 1.
One of the factors that resulted in such a rapid increase in the rate of vaccination was the introduction of a lottery where FJ$51,000 (about K86,167) was used as prize money being split among ten fully vaccinated Fijians in recognition of Fiji’s 51st year of independence.
Fiji government is planning a further lottery due to its success as Fijians will have some people who remain vulnerable.
Similarly in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, Dominic Perrittot the newly appointed premier announced that 92 per cent of eligible population had received their first jab and over 80 per cent are now fully vaccinated.
This has been accomplished two weeks ahead of schedule.
The NSW government expect to remove most restrictions by Nov 11.
Sadly, in PNG, less than 3 per cent of adults have received their first jab and a mere 1 per cent have received the second jab and are fully vaccinated and as shown in graphs 1 and 2.
It would take PNG another 6.5 years to vaccinate 10 per cent of the PNG population which is closer to 10 million.
Our only hope to avoid a catastrophic disaster is to learn from the success in Fiji and NSW and introduce measures that will increase vaccination immediately.
In Fiji, “No jab, no job -no vax, no travel” (air road and sea) restrictions was unanimously accepted.
The lottery concept could easily be adapted in PNG and well received, perhaps in a way more culturally appropriate in PNG.
Greater understanding by some of the smaller pentecostal churches who are influencing many from not being vaccinated and of
course the fake social media.
There is need for more awareness about the coronavirus and vaccines that are all declared safe by WHO (World Health Organisation), Unicef and the Government.
It is pleasing to read that the Governor of NCD Powes Parkop has announced “No jab, no job” policy, we need other provinces to do likewise.
Prof Mola feels there need to be more dialogue about the test results in PNG.
The total tests quoted of 20,221 in PNG compared to 50,953 if we tested in the same proportion of people in PNG as has been tested in Fiji we would have tested 202,210 and most likely found that that at least 2290 to have died from the Covid-19.
One of the main problems of recording the Covid-19 deaths in PNG is the very strict criteria for declaring a cause of death because they fear stigma and extra expense in procedures to fly the body back to home provinces.
The death must be backed up by a PCR type Covid-19 test (ie not just a rapid lateral flow test) and many relatives are telling doctors not to put Covid-19 on recording of Covid-19 related deaths.
Such statements was made in the media following Fr Gibbs broadcast to students of Divine Word University (DWU).
A staff of DWU Annie Manango, said: “I was one of those statistics in April.
“Back then there was a lot of unknown and uncertainty about this pandemic.
“Having it is like a death sentence, thankfully, with prayers and lots of care and attention from my son,friends, colleagues, DWU administration and the DWI clinic, I survived.
“Thankfully, it was only a mild case, but I saw the effect this illness has on others, especially by loved ones.
“Being vaccinated is not about ourselves.
“It is an unselfish act, it is an act of love, especially for our family, our young children who need us in their journey of growth of life.
“ It is an assurance to our loved ones that we have taken steps to protect ourselves for them show we can still be with them, assist them and protect them.
“It is a moral and ethical act, that we ensure we are not the carrier of this virus and we are not an agent to spread it to our family, our workplace and community.”
The Melanesian Foundation has produced a 16 page booklet written by Prof Mola, with the help of OTML, Bread of the World, Kumul Petroleum and the Australian government.
This booklet has now been distributed to all provinces in PNG providing answers to the most commonly asked questions about the coronavirus and vaccination in English, Motu and Tok Pisin.
Dr Tavul, former senior scientist at Institute of Medical Research (IMR) and now Pro Chancellor, planning and development of Papua New Guinea University of Natural Resources (UNRE) advises of a great deal of success at UNRE where hundred are now seeking vaccination following awareness and distribution of the booklet.
IMR, the official accredited agency for medical research in PNG has only received K1 million to undertake work related to Covid-19, whilst a group of doctors in Port Moresby was initially to be funded by K10 million.
Fortunately, sanity prevailed and THE Government took advise from Mesac and the money was allocated to PNG laboratories and IMR to improve testing capacity.
The blame game will not solve the problem, Fiji has set an example of what can be done.
PNG is not doing enough despite the amount of money allocated.
Similarly, Covid-19 funds allocated to the provinces and districts need to be investigated to determine just how these funds have been used?
The Fiji experience cannot be ignored.
We need to be more proactive, those that understand should speak to their friends, acquaintances, congregation and convince them to be vaccinated.
We need our national, provincial and local level government leaders to understand the seriousness of the pandemic and speak to their constituents of the importance of being vaccinated which is a perfectly normal process in today’s world which has been
successful in so many other diseases such as polio, tetanus, whooping cough, Hepatitis A and B, measles, diphtheria and currently a vaccine to prevent malaria under test.
All these vaccines were made by man under the guidance of God, we need to recognise the countless hours, months, years and decades it has taken by dedicated scientists to prevent diseases that can now be cured or provide comfort for those that maybe incurable.
We need to be thankful for the dedicated scientists, doctors and health workers and like Fiji, we look forward to the day we also can carry the banner of victory over one of the most challenges PNG and the world has ever faced.
This will not happen by itself, it will take strong decisive leadership in both public and private sectors.

Graphs showing recent data providing a projected spread of the Coronanirus and the Delta variant in PNG compared to Fiji.