Australian medical team head to PNG to aid COVID response

The specialist AUSMAT members will spend four weeks in PNG.

The specialist AUSMAT members will spend four weeks in PNG. Photo: ABC News/Nicholas Hynes

A specialist Australian medical team and critical equipment have been flown to Papua New Guinea to help respond to the country’s surging coronavirus cases.

Seventeen members of the Australian Medical Assistance team – including nurses, doctors, and occupational therapists – will join three AUSMAT members who flew to PNG in March, primarily working at the Port Moresby General Hospital.

The Australian Defence Force said the emergency response team was being sent following a request from PNG’s government.

They will provide expert support to PNG’s National Control Centre for COVID-19, as well as assisting with the establishment of an emergency centre at the hospital and aiding COVID patients in critical care.

The number of daily COVID-19 infections reached a record high in PNG in March, with the country’s major hospital reporting seven out of every 10 symptomatic patients were testing positive for coronavirus.

The spike has put pressure on PNG’s already vulnerable health system.

The hospital in Papua New Guinea’s second main city of Lae was forced to suspend services due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

AUSMAT Doctor Catherine Tacon said the unfolding situation in Papua New Guinea was very concerning.

“[Case numbers] have been increasing and have doubled since about February. Obviously, we’re concerned because the amount of testing probably underestimates the actual true numbers,” she said.

“They’re stretched at the moment and we’re going in there to try and help build their capacity.”

A C-130J Hercules departed RAAF Base Darwin on Friday morning, loaded with critical medical supplies such as stretchers, tents, vaccine refrigerators and aspirators – along with the medical specialists.

Doctor Tacon said the AUSMAT members would spend up to four weeks in the country, while the equipment would remain to aid with the ongoing crisis.

“Our focus will be on helping them strengthen their response in their emergency operations centre, and capacity build their critical care response.”

She said the team would reassess the situation on the ground and decide if more resources were required in May.


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