The pandemic has pushed the country’s healthcare system to the limit, with hospitals turning away patients due to a lack of medical staff.
The WHO has expressed concern over a “sharp increase” in COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea, warning that the outbreak is at a critical stage and could fuel a much larger outbreak.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, speaking at a virtual press conference, said on Friday that although the numbers are relatively low in PNG, the pace of the outbreak was concerning.
“The increase is strong and the WHO is very concerned about the potential for a much larger epidemic,” Adhanom told the media.
With 132,000 AstraZeneca vaccines arriving in the country earlier this week from the COVAX program, increasing the 8,000 doses already sent by Australia, it was vital to send more to the small Pacific country, he said. .
“Papa New Guinea is a prime example of why vaccine equity is so important.”
Throughout 2020, the poor country of more than eight million people recorded just 900 cases, but on Thursday its total rose to more than 9,300 with 82 deaths.
But there are fears that the true scale of the epidemic is much larger due to low rates of testing.
Papua New Guinea’s Health Minister Jelta Wong said the number of health workers infected with the virus continued to rise.
Vaccination efforts have focused on frontline workers in the capital of Port Moresby, with 1,600 people to date having received the vaccine.
The recent batch would begin a nationwide rollout in May, Wong said.
“A total of 588,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be made available to Papua New Guinea; we hope to receive all of this by June. “
The outbreak has pushed the country’s health system to the limit, with hospitals turning away patients due to a lack of medical staff and a temporary field hospital set up in a sports stadium.
In response, expert medical teams from Australia, the United States and Germany were now working in the country to help curb the spread.
Wong again flagged vaccine misinformation as a major threat to the rollout, but said he was encouraged that more people from the provinces were stepping forward in recent days for the shot.
“It won’t be easy, but it’s something we’re going to have to work on to ensure a safer Papua New Guinea.”