On 26 February, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea, triggering landslides, affecting water sources and wiping out houses, health facilities, people and crops. More than 190 aftershocks have been recorded, according to the United States Geological Survey, including one as recently as 20 March.
Results of a joint National Department of Health (NDOH) and World Health Organization (WHO) assessment show that 25 out of 77 health facilities in the two worst-affected provinces are no longer functioning. The total number of closed facilities is potentially higher, as data from eight health centres remains unavailable due to access constraints.
“This disruption to health service provision comes at a time when people are most in need of care,” said Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative to Papua New Guinea. “As aftershocks continue, affected communities are dealing with injuries and psychological trauma.
“We’re also worried about potential outbreaks of epidemic-prone diseases. We must move swiftly to restore health services.”
Overcrowding in informal camps and a lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation increase the risk of disease outbreaks. Vaccination coverage was low prior to the earthquake and the country was already facing outbreaks of malaria, pertussis and measles.
Roads, rivers, airfields and bridges have been impacted by the earthquake in a part of the country prone to violence and insecurity. Access to affected communities has therefore been extremely challenging.
“Responding to the health needs in Papua New Guinea is definitely not easy,” said Dr Luo. “But we’re determined to find ways, alongside our partners, to deliver life-saving health services to even the hardest to reach communities.”
WHO is supporting the National Department of Health (NDOH), provincial health authorities and partners with information management, technical guidance and logistics.
As the Health Cluster lead agency, WHO plays an active role in coordinating the activities of 25 health partners in order to align efforts, fill gaps, avoid duplication and ensure that response efforts reach those most in need.
The Organization is also supporting the strengthening of disease surveillance and has pre-positioned medical supplies in preparation for potential outbreaks, including seven diarrhoeal disease kits and rapid diagnostic tests for dengue.
(Picture: MAF PNG)