WHO asks HHI to respond to Papua New Guinea COVID-19 crisis

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide since February 2021. As of 20 April, a total of 9,952 confirmed cases including 91 deaths have been reported. The total number of reported cases and deaths are likely significantly underreported due to poor reporting and very limited testing across the country. As of March, fewer than 60,000 PCR tests (GeneXpert or RT-PCR) have been conducted in PNG since the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, lack of access to vaccines and vaccine hesitancy are significant issues across the country. As of 17 April, 1,508 of the approximately 8.8 million people have received COVID-19 vaccines.

There are increasing reports of PNG’s hospitals being overwhelmed, with a large number of healthcare workers recently infected at facilities in several provinces. With inadequate healthcare infrastructure across the country, small decreases in the health workforce or even the temporary shutdown of services can have significant ramifications.

On 19 March, the WHO put out a request for Emergency Medical Teams (EMTs). The request indicated that PNG requires support from international EMTs to respond to the surge in COVID-19 cases. The immediate need is for type one and or specialized care teams capable of deploying into and supporting Provincial/District Hospitals to establish effective triage, isolation, and acute care. Training on Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) protocols and treatment of COVID-19 patients is also an urgent request.

HHI will deploy a small medical team comprised of two providers, three RNs, and two to three logistic support/staff members for a six week deployment. It is anticipated that the team would not only provide surge support to the assigned health facility, but also conduct local capacity building through IPC/COVID-19 prevention training. A pinpoint location has not been assigned yet, but it is anticipated HHI will be assigned to the Eastern Highlands.