Deaths rising in PNG, Australia deploys emergency medical team


The Covid-19 death toll continues to rise around Papua New Guinea,with the biggest hospital recording 35 in three weeks, officials say.

Port Moresby General Hospital (PMGH) chief executive officer Dr Paki Molumi said the deaths at the hospital were from Sept 27 in the Covid-19 wards and in the emergency department.

At the Mt Hagen Hospital, the 30 people who had died since 17 September were not vaccinated, says Western Highlands health authority chief executive officer Jane Holden.

In Eastern Highlands, provincial health authority chief executive officer Dr Joseph Apa said people were “dying here and there like flies”.

The PMGH is planning to open up services after scaling them down two weeks ago.

Dr Molumi said of the 35 deaths, 99 percent were not vaccinated.

Since Sept 27 when the surge began, the positivity rate rose from 35 per cent to 89 percent.

“This means there is an increasing number of cases coming to our emergency department that reflects more community transmission,” he said.

“We are experiencing a huge surge in Covid-19 which is worse than the last two surges.

“The Austmat tent outside the car park, emergency department, 19- bed isolation ward are all full.”

The hospital has opened another 52-bed Covid-19 ward which currently has 49 patients.

“Every day the numbers are increasing and is filling up the wards.

“So we are trying to improve the capacity at the Taurama Aquatic Centre (Nightingale Covid-19 centre) so that we can offload some patients there.

“TAC has 30 beds but now has 35 patients already. The Tairama centre can accommodate 150 to 200 patients.

“So next week, the capacity should increase so that it can hold 60 or 90 patients,” Molumi said.

“We are struggling to get the capacity at TAC up and running so we can offload some of these patients so that PMGH will return to normal.” Dr Molumi added that the hospital was experiencing a strain on its workforce after 89 staff members tested positive for the Covid-19 and were on sick leave to allow home isolation.

Meanwhile, an emergency management team from Australia arrived in Port Moresby on Saturday to help Papua New Guinea respond to the surge in Covid-19 cases.

The Australian High Commission in a statement said the Australian team would work with PNG authorities.

National Pandemic Controller David Manning and Australia High Commissioner Jon Philp welcomed the team which included three Australian medical assistance team health specialists, two logisticians plus staff from Emergency Management Australia and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“They will support the PNG National Control Centre to coordinate its Covid-19 response, support the management in severe cases and help distribute equipment and supplies across the country,” the statement said.

Australia is also providing 40 oxygen concentrators for patients in hospitals.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said the Australian government continued to assist PNG respond to the new surge in Covid-19 cases.

“Health Minister Jelta Wong and I discussed further targeted assistance that Australia can provide.

“I confirmed with Minister Wong that Australia will also deploy another Ausmat team to PNG to assess how we can support the PNG health system respond to this outbreak.

“I also reaffirmed Australia’s commitment to meeting PNG’s vaccine supply needs, as vaccination is a crucial part of the road to recovery,” she said.

In another development, the Glanrowan Funeral homes in Goroka and Lae have stopped receiving bodies of those who die from the Coronavirus (Covid-19), the funeral director says.

John Simon Glanville has instructed staff that any deaths requiring mortuary and embalming services must first be taken to the general hospital to be declared, issued a death certificate and swabbed to be confirmed negative for the Covid-19.

“I sincerely apologise to my Papua New Guineans for this inconvenience – it is not a harassment or meant to be discriminatory, rather it is a measure to protect us, including you, from the Covid-19,” he said.

The Morobe Covid-19 Emergency Operations Centre said both the stadium and hospital morgues were full to capacity and the authority would do mass burial for bodies that had been there for more than two months.

Glanville’s decision to stop bodies coming in came after one of his staff in Lae was tested positive for the Covid-19 and isolated.

According to him, the homes received their first two Covid-19 deaths last year and then an increase in number his year.

He said the pandemic had put a lot of pressure on the service which also catered for Madang and Wewak.

“An issue we faced was that some families did not remove their deceased out quickly for fear of the Covid-19 and in turn that was affecting our business,” he said.

“Prior to the Covid-19, we would receive a maximum of 35 bodies per week but this quickly increased with the third wave.

“So, initially, we put a limit for Covid-19 bodies at six and they were kept separately; but after my staff fell ill, I had to put a complete stop.

“In Lae alone, we handled about 40 Covid-19 bodies before my decision to stop it.”

Glanville sees the need to liaise with the Morobe Covid-19 hospital to bring another container to serve as a second Covid-19 morgue.

Donations comprising oxygen cylinders and consumable items have started pouring in for Goroka Hospital last week.

The donations for frontline health workers in the hospital’s Covid-19 isolation centre, were contributed by the China/PNG Friendship Association in Goroka, Eastern Highlands.

Association chairman and Seng DA Business Group chief executive officer Bobby Chan said he had decided to play a more active role to help the hospital.

“We have raised K100,000(US$28,600) to buy oxygen concentrators and food stuff to support Covid-19 patients and the tireless frontline health workers,” he said.

“The Goroka Chamber of Commerce also brought in a container-full of medical supplies.”

Eastern Highlands health authority chief executive officer Dr Joseph Apa said he was grateful that the business communities, church groups and individuals were helping to raise funds for the province to fight Covid-19.

“We are running out of resources and the donations can make a big difference as the fight against the virus is far from over ,” he said.