Sector Release
4 April 2018

A recent report from WHO in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has highlighted the enormous challenges and ongoing impact of a 7.5 Richter scale earthquake which hit two provinces on 26 February with over 190 subsequent aftershocks. The devastation can clearly be seen in this ABC report where the PNG Government has declared a state of emergency for parts of its Highlands Region, as Australia prepares to fly aid to affected areas.

ASHM members may be aware that we have been working in PNG for close to 20 years specifically supporting the response to HIV&AIDS through our Collaboration for Health in Papua New Guinea (CHPNG) program but also more recently extending that partnership with the Catholic Church Health Services. We have had to suspend two mentor and site assessment visits to this area because of the damage and infrastructure challenges and we know that this is an area already severely impacted by HIV antiretroviral (ARV) supply stock outs and resource limitations.

“The recent earthquake has resulted in a significant amount of damage to key infrastructure and services in the Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces. Ongoing support is needed to ensure that that the communities affected are not further disadvantaged by this unfortunate natural disaster. A number of clinics that we work with have reported being unable to provide services to patients due to damage that was sustained during the earthquake,” said lead ASHM International clinical advisor, Dr Arun Menon. "Furthermore, recent reports have highlighted the current on-the-ground situation has exacerbated brutal tribal in-fighting and an increase of gender-based violence against women and girls as a result of the instability caused by this natural disaster."

“The earthquake has had a significant effect on our client’s ability to access ARVs and healthcare. We are working closing with our government, Church and NGO partners to ensure that there is as little disruption to the provision of services to PLHIV as possible,” added Alfred Mark, Program Manager of Igat Hope – the peak body for people living with HIV (PLHIV) in PNG.

“Our clinics in the affected areas are facing a number of challenges. In addition to the damaged sustained by clinic buildings, there has been significant damage to staff housing which is affecting our capacity to provide services.  Access to clean water and appropriate hygiene facilities, food security and the provision of healthcare and education services are all of great concern. We are doing everything in our power to assist these clinics and their surrounding communities ensure that appropriate assistance and resources are reaching them,” said Graham Apian, Project Manager of Catholic Church Health Services.

UNAIDS has clear guidance around the challenges in emergency setting both natural disaster and humanitarian settings and the importance of ensuring that people are still able to access what is clearly lifesaving medications and who are more vulnerable to other health and environmental dangers or risks.

ASHM will continue to monitor the situation and provide support to The National Department of Health: Government of Papua New Guinea and WHO and other authorities as the situation becomes clearer.