Since the wake of COVID-19, countries all over the world are slowly beginning to mend their fractured economies and healthcare systems. While some countries can start picking up the pieces, others just cannot catch a break. Papua New Guinea is a country that finds itself in a unique and desperate health crisis with dual outbreaks. On top of COVID-19, the country was also hit with a return of polio. Australia is coming to the aid of its neighbors with a massive financial assistance plan.
The Resurgence of Polio in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the pacific region. The country was declared officially polio-free 18 years ago, but in 2018, the virus was rediscovered in a six-year-old child. Shortly after, the virus was also found in multiple other children from the same general area. Polio is especially harmful to children under 5 and can lead to lifelong paralysis. The country is vulnerable to disease outbreaks due to the lack of proper sterilization and cleaning practices. However, there is also a unique layer of security against the outbreak because Papua New Guinea is a remote island that is cut off from the mainland of Australia.
Humanitarian Aid for Polio Outbreak
A few months after the polio outbreak, the Australian government stepped in and responded by giving $10 million to Papua New Guinea’s polio immunization crusade. A few weeks later, another $6 million was donated to the GPEI (Global Polio Eradication Initiative), which was followed by an additional $15 million dedication in November of 2018. An interview was conducted with Rachel Mason Nunn, an experienced social development worker in Papua New Guinea. Mason Nunn stated “We have a window right now to invest heavily in infectious diseases in PNG. Australia should continue to invest in health care in PNG, if not just because it is the right thing to do, but because helping our region acquire strong health systems is a vital element of Australia’s own health security.” Currently, Australia gives the highest contributions to Papua New Guineas’ struggling healthcare system.
In an extreme case of bad luck, Papua New Guinea has now experienced two disease outbreaks within two years of each other, polio and COVID-19. In a frantic request for aid, the government has reached out to the World Health Organization (WHO) in an effort to take some weight off its already overburdened healthcare system. Once COVID-19 spread to the country, a struggle with limited numbers of testing kits prompted the WHO to assist by deploying medical staff and distributing essential medical supplies.
Dual Outbreaks Plague Developing World
Thanks to the generous donations from contributors like the WHO and Australia, millions of child polio vaccinations have been given as well as sufficient supplies of COVID-19 test kits. For a country that is still dealing with diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and polio on top of COVID-19, the people of Papua New Guinea are pushing ahead. The dual outbreaks in Papua New Guinea serve as a global reminder that other preventable diseases should not be neglected in the fight against COVID-19 and that international aid is essential now more than ever.
– Brandon Baham