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Papua New Guinea COVID-19 response

Overview

PNG and Australia share a special relationship, reaffirmed by the signing of the PNG-Australian Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership (CSEP) on 5 August 2020. We enter this Partnership at a time when COVID-19 is having a significant social and economic impact on PNG, the region and the world.  Australia is assisting PNG to respond to the rise in COVID-19 cases since the country’s first case was recorded in March 2020.

Australia’s assistance

Since February 2020, Australia has provided ongoing and substantial COVID-19 support, including for medical supplies, direct funding to provinces to prepare and respond to COVID-19, public health strengthening and economic support. This is in addition to assistance provided by the Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police, including senior advisory support to PNG’s National Control Centre for COVID-19, and logistics assistance to PNG Defence Force’s surge support to COVID-19 response efforts.

Specific activities include:

  • an initial batch of 8,480 vaccine doses from Australia's stock to support vaccinations of essential workers, with further doses from Australian manufactured CSL vaccines for PNG as part of our broader regional vaccine donations;
  • strengthening PNG’s testing and surveillance capacity by providing over 20,000 sample collection kits, 38,000 GeneXpert cartridges, 50,000 Rapid Diagnostic Tests, four new Polymerase Chain Reaction testing machines; and testing of over 10,000 samples in Australia
  • an estimated $21 million in direct funding to Provincial Health Authorities for provincial response efforts and technical expertise and logistical support to the National Department of Health and PNG’s COVID-19 National Control Centre, including in the areas of public health, surveillance and infection control.
  • funding to Australian NGOs and churches (over $21 million to date) for community outreach, resilience building, hygiene and sanitation, vaccine roll-out and distribution of communication materials to combat vaccine hesitancy.
  • helping to establish and operate the Florence Nightingale Centre (Taurama Aquatic Centre) as an isolation facility for up to 120 mild COVID patients.

This is in addition to $144.7 million to PNG over 2020-21 to 2022-23 through our Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative to help ensure a smooth, early and safe rollout of the vaccines to the region. This initiative builds on our $80 million contribution to the multilateral COVAX Facility’s Advance Market Commitment for developing countries. Our funding is supporting PNG preparations for a COVID-19 vaccination campaign and to assist with the procurement and delivery of doses.

We are also continuing support for PNG’s economic reform to improve the efficiency and resiliency of the PNG economy and improve the country’s growth prospects on the other side of COVID-19.

Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT)

In response to PNG’s call for Emergency Medical Teams on 23 July 2020, Australia deployed Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) to work alongside PNG health officials and frontline workers to support and strengthen the PNG-led response. The Australian medical specialists included epidemiologists, emergency medicine and intensive care specialists, radiographers, anaesthetists, emergency and critical care nurse practitioners, midwives, occupational therapists, medical laboratory scientists, public health experts and logisticians.

The first AUSMAT deployed 4 August to 6 October 2020. Two eight-member teams established and embedded safe COVID-19 clinical practices in existing PNG health facilities, provided supplementary support for clinical care, and worked with PNG health officials and frontline workers to strengthen systems and practices in COVID-19 referral facilities to support PNG to manage the outbreak.

Following a request for assistance from PNG in March 2021, a second AUSMAT deployed 23 March to 7 May. The 20-member team established a COVID-19 Screening and Triage Facility at Port Moresby General Hospital, improved staff and workplace safety for those providing care to COVID-19 patients, and supported and mentored obstetric and intensive care unit staff. AUSMAT also increased the capacity of testing and treatment facilities, and supported the national public health response through improved data collection and the provision of high-level technical advice within the PNG Department of Health and National Coordination Centre.

Photo of AUSMAT nurse delivering training to Hospital staff at Port Moresby General Hospital.
AUSMAT nurse conducts training with Port Moresby General Hospital staff on the correct use of PPE. Credit: Dr David Symmons.
Photo of AUSMAT representative fist bumping the PNG Minister for Health.
AUSMAT handover supplies to the PNG Minister for Health, essential to the ongoing management and support of the Screening and Triage Facility at Port Moresby General Hospital. Credit: Craig Kentwell.
Photo of several locals queuing on the street to undertake initial screening for COVID-19.
Locals undertake initial screening for COVID-19 at the Screening and Triage Facility at Port Moresby General Hospital.  Credit: Dr David Symmons.
Photo of AUSMAT nurse Theona Stone and Port Moresby General Hospital nurse Elice with a mother and her new born baby.
AUSMAT nurse Theona Stone and Port Moresby General Hospital nurse Elice celebrate the safe arrival of a baby with her mother. Credit: Angela Jackson.

In 2020, the first AUSMAT travelled to provincial areas in PNG to establish connections with health actors involved in the COVID-19 response. The team worked with health actors in Daru, Vanimo and Lae to provide support, mentorship and guidance to strengthen the COVID-19 response in PNG beyond Port Moresby.

PNG and Australian medical specialists stand on a balcony wearing personal protective equipment, to demonstrate to the audience how the equipment is used.
PNG frontline workers and AUSMAT demonstrate how to use PPE equipment in Lae.
Credit: DFAT.
Three PNG frontline workers and three AUSMAT team members – wearing masks -pose for a photo with boxes of PPE in Vanimo, PNG
PNG frontline workers and AUSMAT with PPE for communities in Vanimo, PNG.
Credit: PNG

Each AUSMAT deployment worked closely with the Government of PNG, the World Health Organization and Australia’s bilateral health program to ensure a smooth transition and sustainable response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Australian medical specialists adhered to PNG quarantine requirements on arrival in Port Moresby, and to Australian quarantine regulations upon their return home.

Two Australian medical specialists stand next to a Papua New Guinea frontline worker, presenting a box that contains an inline suction device for the Port Moresby General Hospital.
Australian Medical Specialists (AUSMAT) deliver inline suction devices to Port Moresby General Hospital, where PNG health staff look after seriously ill patients. Credit: DFAT
A group of medical specialists from Australia and Papua New Guinea gather in a circle, wearing protection equipment.
Australian medical specialists (AUSMAT) work alongside Papua New Guinea frontline workers to embed safe COVID-19 clinical practices in existing health facilities.Credit: DFAT
Five AUSMAT deployees and two DFAT employees take a socially distanced team photo before a scenario based exercise with PNG health officials.
AUSMAT and DFAT staff prior to undertaking a scenario based exercise with PNG health officials who are working directly with COVID-19 patients.. Credit: DFAT

Media release

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