Health dept inserts medical teams in disaster areas

Two teams from the National Department of Health (NDoH) are now on the ground in Tari, Hela Province, and Mendi, Southern Highlands Province.

Dr Sam Yockopua, the medical controller of Hela and SHP Health Disaster Response, said the teams were inserted yesterday (March 7).

Each team comprises a senior medical officer in emergency medicine, 1 Australian specialist paramedic, 1 PNG paramedic, 1 specialist emergency nurse, 2 public health officers and 1 World Health Organization/UNICEF representative.

“They are working with management and team on the ground, assisting and gathering accurate information as much as possible,” stated Dr Yockopua in his NDoH insertion update.

“This is a reconnaissance mission apart from clinical and technical assistance.”

The medical controller further said he was informed that there are critically injured that require repatriation.

“For example, there is a child in Tari with traumatic distended abdomen needing immediate laparotomy!

“I have instructed the teams to promptly triage and start prep works for retrieval.

“They have been tasked to work with team on the ground and work on choppers and fixed wings, if possible, for airlifting into Mt Hagen.”

Dr Yockopua outlined that the Mt Hagen General Hospital will need to be provided technical support with this regard.

“In the meantime, the command centre in Port Moresby is working with our partners: the NZ High Commission, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, WHO, NDoH and PNG Government to intervene accordingly,” he said.

“The teams will return by Sunday (March 11) with full information and a report with recommendations will go to Secretary for Health and Government by Wednesday for full scale response next week.”

Dr Yockopua said the Tari and Mendi hospitals will focus on primary health and public health issues.

“They are expected to be inundated into thousands. Therefore, all trauma and critically ill to be transferred out for secondary and tertiary care.

“Mount Hagen will be the epicentre for secondary and tertiary care.

“The Secretary for Health has written to the Prime Minister yesterday to request Australian Government to mobilise a civilian field hospital called AusMAT (Australian Medical Assistance Teams), based in Darwin.

“We requested for AusMAT 3, which has 4 theatres, radiology, laboratory, 40 bed capacity, 24 hour cover, etc. AusMAT 3 was used by Aus/US army in Afghanistan.”

Essentially, Dr Yockopua said WHO, UNICEF, GoPNG, Oil Search Ltd and others will focus on primary health and public health in these two provinces up until full restoration; while NZ, DFAT, GoPNG and others will focus on secondary and tertiary care services outside of these two provinces until the acute phase is settled and done with.

“Other hospitals to consider are Kudjip, Kundiawa and Goroka,” stated the medical controller.

“During the second phase response (next week onwards), doctors and health workers from other hospitals and volunteers will be distributed into these three provinces.”

(Pictures by St John Ambulance Chief Officer, Matt Cannon, who is also part of the disaster team)

Carmella Gware