Papua New Guinea: Misinformation and stigma add extra burden to COVID-19 patients

The health system in Papua New Guinea is at risk of collapsing, given the staff shortages due to staff testing positive for COVID-19 and the increasing number of patients

19 Apr 21

MSF is providing psychological support to COVID-19 patients in Papua New Guinea as stigma and misinformation take a toll, adding more challenges to treating COVID-19 in the country.

Vaccine Inequality 

While the country avoided the worst of 2020’s global pandemic, it is now being hit with a severe outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

A training in safe use of PPE is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members. Trainees practice safe donning and dotting of PPE.

Authorities have enforced measures to flatten the curve before it worsens, however it is proving difficult given the already fragile health system.

With many health care staff in the country currently in quarantine after testing positive, another problem of the pandemic comes to light: vaccine inequality.

Papua New Guinea has seen COVID-19 cases skyrocket since the beginning of the year.

“The situation in Papua New Guinea is an example of the global inequity of access to vaccines and other medical tools. When cases numbers began to soar, health workers here remained unvaccinated, while other countries are hoarding more vaccines than they need”, says Farah Hossain, medical manager with MSF.

MSF are taught the basics of how to thoroughly wash hands using soap or sanitizer by MSF staff during a training in safe use of PPE which is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members.

Cases skyrocket

Papua New Guinea has seen COVID-19 cases skyrocket since the beginning of the year.

At present, the cumulative total of confirmed cases in the country is 8,984, with 846 recovered, and 69 known deaths in nine provinces; with most deaths occurring in the capital, Port Moresby.

A training in safe use of PPE is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members. MSF starts to manage a 43-bed ward in Rita Flynn makeshift hospital in Port Moresby where we treat moderately to severely ill patients suffering from COVID-19 in April.

Medical experts have sounded off on the overwhelming stress this spike in cases is causing the country’s health system.

Over-worked medical staff, many testing positive and having to quarantine, and a lack of medical supplies have all but crippled public hospitals and clinics around the country.

MSF are taught the basics of how to thoroughly wash hands using soap or sanitizer by MSF staff during a training in safe use of PPE which is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members.

Since October 2020, MSF has assisted with one lab technician and cartridges to analyse samples of PCR tests for COVID-19 infections, however the spike in cases demanded extra manpower and medical supplies.

MSF Response

Early this month, the MSF team in Papua New Guinea began supporting the improvised COVID-19 treatment facility in Port Moresby, managed by the National Capital District’s Provincial Health Authority (NCDPHA), which has a capacity of 43 beds for moderately to severely ill patients.

A training in safe use of PPE is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members. MSF starts to manage a 43-bed ward in Rita Flynn makeshift hospital in Port Moresby where we treat moderately-severely ill patients suffering from COVID-19 in April 2021.

The MSF team has hired and trained Papua New Guinean medical practitioners in early April, specifically focusing on emergency situations and how to handle them swiftly.

They undergo training on topics ranging from how to properly wear personal protective equipment (PPE), to oxygen therapy to treating acute pneumonia.

MSF are taught the basics of how to thoroughly wash hands using soap or sanitizer by MSF staff during a training in safe use of PPE which is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members.

According to Project Coordinator, Shah Khalid, this will not only help them here and now with COVID-19 but also in the future: “Training our staff is essential to ensure their and our patient’s safety. The procedures apply in all health care provision, while we are in a pandemic and also in any other time”.

A training in safe use of PPE is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members. Trainees practice safe donning and dotting of PPE.

Overcoming the stigma of COVID-19

Another important, yet often overlooked topic that the medical practitioners will learn about is patient education and counselling.

This is to ensure the patients’ mental and emotional well-being are not neglected. The latter has been a topic that has been largely ignored in the country.

A training in safe use of PPE is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members. MSF starts to manage a 43-bed ward in Rita Flynn makeshift hospital in Port Moresby where we treat moderately-severely ill patients suffering from COVID-19 in April 2021.

Patients who test positive are isolated and stigmatized due to the lack of general knowledge about COVID-19.

Stigma around the virus is still rife with many refusing to test for the virus, even when showing symptoms.

The projects’ patient education and counselling manager, Fundzile Msibi discusses the importance of the sessions; “It’s very important to understand that people who are diagnosed with COVID-19 will face a lot of emotions."

"They are worried about their diagnosis, maybe anxious or uncertain about recovering because they will look at the number of people dying of the virus worldwide."

A training in safe use of PPE is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members. MSF starts to manage a 43-bed ward in Rita Flynn makeshift hospital in Port Moresby where we treat moderately-severely ill patients suffering from COVID-19 in April 2021.

"They will also have to remain in isolation, away from family and friends. All of these challenges will affect them psychologically as well so this support is to help them cope with their situation. Just being there for the patients to express their emotions and to support them when they are going through this period.”

We want to prevent emotional problems or disorders such as depression.

Fundzile Msibi, patient education and counselling manager

The staff plan to have regular counselling sessions with the patients during the different stages of their stay at the hospital and is also starting to look at how these issues may be addressed in the communities.

A training in safe use of PPE is held in Port Moresby for newly hired staff members. The project coordinator, Shah Khalid, instructs the nurse, Pauline Louaisil.

MSF has worked in PNG for many years running tuberculosis programs and continues diagnosis and treatment in Port Moresby (NCD) and Kerema (Gulf Province).

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