The COVID-19 crisis is exposing inequalities and inequities in all aspects of PNG society. The health inequalities and inequities have long been documented and many scholars warned that if the PNG’s health system is not strengthened, a disease outbreak will overwhelm and collapse the health system. Unfortunately, many attempts to strengthen the PNG health system has been a piece meal approach with no sustained effort over many years to strengthen the system building blocks.
There seem to be distrust in the government systems in PNG. These sentiments have been posted all over social media. And is also fueling the pushback against COVID-19 vaccine. I think what we are seeing is a growing sentiment over many years that is only surfacing due to the current pandemic. In the years past, the PNG government has not been able to come to the rescue of the people in times of crisis. The people have always fall back on the cultural social support structure for safety and sustenance during crisis. So what we are seeing is only natural – PNG people are falling back to what they consider safe and to people they can trust – family and friends. Not the government.
There is real risk that with COVID-19 restrictions to control the outbreak (epicenter is in Port Moresby), those small informal sector businesses will be the ones affected most. And the effects of no income for the poor during the crisis maybe worse then the effects of COVID-19 itself. I think the public will pushback on the restrictions as well because people need to go out daily to earn money. Especially in the urban areas. The rural communities given their geographical remoteness maybe shielded from the infection.
Hospital staff are getting infected with COVID-19 and services are being scaled down. This may cause more deaths from other preventable and treatable diseases (e.g. malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea etc).
Restrictions are good but on its own will not stop COVID-19 transmission. PNG need to vaccinate its population. I believe vaccination plus other public health measures can be more effective to control COVID-19 crisis in PNG, and not just restrictions or lockdowns.