One million infections predicted in ‘a few weeks’: Australian health experts, church agencies and humanitarian groups call for urgent vaccine action in PNG

01 Apr, 2021

The following is a joint statement calling for the Australian Government to provide further emergency health support to Papua New Guinea.
Community transmission of COVID-19 across almost every province in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is growing, with hundreds of new cases being identified daily. Epidemiological estimates are that infections could have now reached over 100,000 cases, and could reach one million cases within a few weeks. 
The PNG Epidemic Response Group is an alliance of leading Medical Research Institutes, Australian Churches, professional services, and development and humanitarian organisations operating in PNG. The Group is calling on the Australian Government to release a greater amount of vaccines from Australian supplies to urgently tackle the epidemic in PNG before it spirals further out of control.
"Essential healthcare across PNG has been disrupted. Hospitals and healthcare centres have reached capacity and are now closing,” said Professor Brendan Crabb, CEO of the Burnett Institute and spokesperson. He continued: 
"Waiting for the supply of vaccinations from the European Union is already too late - PNG is facing a potential humanitarian crisis on a scale that have not been seen before. 
“We welcome the decision by the Australian Government to immediately allocate 8,000 vaccines for frontline health workers in PNG and the Australian Government’s indication that it will do more. Now is that time.”
Given the soaring scale of the epidemic and the public health challenge for PNG; the Group is calling on the Morrison Government to urgently consider the following pressing needs:  
1. The Australian Government builds on it's immediate allocation of 8,480 vaccines for frontline health workers to 20,000 and help increase PNG’s capacity to rollout the vaccines at a provincial level.
2. That this increased emergency allocation be made available to PNG national development workers in health, medical settings, health promotion or gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and other staff, working in an integrated way with frontline workers. 
3. That the Australian Government immediately allocate one million of its domestically produced vaccines to PNG now, along with accompanying technical assistance and support to the PNG Government and communities to address vaccine hesitancy and distribution.
4. That all other development workers are prioritised in the first phase of PNG’s national vaccination program. This would cover deliver essential workers helping deliver development programs in sectors such as education, water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), the empowerment of women and people with a disability, and rural development and livelihoods.
5. That the Australian Government supports the vaccination of Australian and expatriate development workers who work alongside PNG colleagues and support their health and development response to COVID-19.
“The risks of the virus mutating further as it takes hold across the PNG population is very real. If new variants emerge, they threaten to undermine the Australian vaccines program. It’s in our national interest, as well as the right humanitarian thing to do to prioritise Australian vaccines to assisting PNG,” said Marc Purcell, Chief Executive of the Australian Council for International Development. 
“Many of our agencies and colleagues have worked in PNG with the people since independence to support the country’s development aspirations. We are working in close partnership with the PNG national and provincial governments, medical researchers and hospitals, and local NGOs, charities and churches on the ground to assist the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This cooperation is a testament to the strength of our shared commitment to PNG’s prosperity and development and our two countries’ deep people-to-people and historical ties.” said Bishop Phillip Huggins, President of the Australian National Council of Churches in Australia.
"The people of PNG continue to demonstrate strong resilience in the face of challenges to health, livelihoods and personal safety. We remain deeply committed to working with the PNG Government and its people, as well as with the Australian Government, to navigate this current crisis.” said Stuart Schaefer, Chair of the International Development Contractors Community.  
For more information or to arrange interviews, contact Madeleine Flint on 0401 721 064 or [email protected]
The PNG Epidemic Response Group consists of the Burnet Institute, the National Council of Churches in Australia, the Australian Council for International Development, and the International Development Contractors Community.