Scott Waide: Let’s be honest! Nearly every PNG public health facility is facing medicine shortages

Merut Kilamu being given the last bottles of Amoxycillin suspension for her baby. Image: Scott Waide/My Land, My Country blog

COMMENTARY: By Scott Waide

In Lae City, Papua New Guinea’s second-largest city, there are seven urban clinics, each serving between 100 and 150 patients a day.  They get their medical supplies form the Government Area Medical Store (AMS) in Lae.

The AMS  in Lae also supplies the Highlands and the rest of Momase.

For the last six years, staff at the clinics have  been battling  medicine shortages.  You can see,  first hand,  how the medicine shortage affects people in Lae.

READ MORE: PNG faces ‘catastrophe’ if no crisis action taken

At Buimo Clinic on Friday,  a mother and baby came in  for treatment.  She  was  told that the last bottles of Amoxicillin suspensions would be given for her child  and that she  would have to go to a pharmacy to complete the treatment course.

The woman’s name is Merut Kilamu.  She lives with her family at Bundi Camp in Lae.  She is not just a statistic.  She is a real person who is bearing the brunt of the ongoing medicine shortages.

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“Sometimes, we are able to buy the medicine,” she says. “Other times,  when we don’t have the money, we can’t buy what we need.”

Patients go from the clinics to  Angau Hospital in the hope that they will get  the medicines  they need. But Angau can’t handle the numbers.  Hospital staff have even  posted on Facebook saying they too need the basic supplies of antibiotics, antimalarial drugs and consumables like gauze, gloves and syringes.

Hospitals and clinics have become little more than prescription factories channeling their patients to pharmacies who charge the patients upwards of K40 (about NZ$18) for medicines. Pharmacies are profiting from the desperation and ill health of the Papua New Guineans.

Prices increased
In 2017, when clinics ran out of antimalarial drugs, pharmacies increased the prices.

In some instances, officers in charge of clinics felt the need to negotiate with pharmacies to keep their prices within an affordable range.  It is difficult for staff in smaller clinics to send away patients knowing they can’t afford  to pay for medicines.

“Sometimes, we can’t send them away. Staff have to fork out the money to help them pay,” says Miriam Key, nurse manager at Buimo  clinic.

This is a nationwide medicine shortage!

As much as  the politicians dislike it, social media gives a pretty accurate dashboard view of the health system from the end user.  Charles Lee posted on Facebook about how the medicine shortage was affecting his family in Mt Hagen.

“Relatives in Hagen have flown to POM to seek medical treatment because of a shortage of drugs in Hagen.”

His post drew more than 20 comments.

Gloria Willie  said from Mt Hagen:

“They just discharged a relative from ICU and we are taking her to Kundjip (Jiwaka Province)  today and if they are not allowed to receive  medical attention then, we are also planning to bring her to port Moresby. It is really frustrating.  But because of our loved ones, we are trying any possible way to have them treated.”

‘Stay at home’
Melissa Pela responded saying:

“Same here in Kavieng. Patients told to buy Panadol and keep at home. If you feel something like fever/running nose etc.. just take it. They say treat it before it becomes serious because there is simply no medicine.”

The officer in charge of Barevaturu clinic in Oro Province, Nigel Tahima,  said by phone,  the  they are seeing an increase in the number of patients  because other clinics just don’t have  medicine.

The reports are flooding in from all over the country. There are too many to mention in one blog post.

If urban clinics are a gauge to measure the flow of medicines from the AMS to the patient, you can imagine what rural clinics are going through.

They are too far from the AMSs and too far to adequately monitor. The only way to get an understanding of their problems is when staff make contact or when you go there.

Scott Waide’s blog columns are frequently published by Asia Pacific Report with permission. He is also EMTV deputy news editor based in Lae.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

PNG to host first Pacific APEC – but is it leaders’ hoo-ha before people?

RNZ’s Insight visits Papua New Guinea, which is due to host an APEC Leaders Summit next month. Video: RNZ Pacific

Papua New Guinea is about to host some of the world’s most powerful leaders at the APEC summit. But as PNG’s moment in the spotlight approaches, RNZ Pacific journalist Johnny Blades asks in a special Insight report how the poorest of APEC’s members is looking after its citizens at a time of social turmoil in the country.

Driving through the countryside on our way to Port Moresby, the surrounding hills were so parched it seemed that only the hardiest of trees could ever grow here.

But as my Papua New Guinean friend Junior said from behind the wheel of the Land Cruiser, the city was growing so fast it would probably soon spread well beyond the trees anyway.

Half an hour out of PNG’s capital we stopped to get a drink at a roadside stall, where the desolation of not only the landscape but the local people came into sharp focus.

LISTEN: Johnny Blades previews APEC on RNZ Insight

A middle aged man approached our Land Cruiser and asked whether we could give him, his wife, and their two small children a lift into PNG’s capital.

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His brow was pursed in troubled lines, the gauntness of his wife was striking. They climbed in, out of the searing dry heat of the Central Province seaboard, and the man introduced himself as Ken Auda.

He explained that he and family were heading from their village to Port Moresby General Hospital.

Despite chronic drug shortages at the hospital, they were desperate to get hold of painkillers for his wife who had cervical cancer, a leading killer of PNG women.

Struggling for a cure
“According to doctors’ examination, they found that ‘your wife will not live (for much longer)’,” Auda explained.

“It gives me financial problems, but I know that I’m struggling my best for my wife to be cured.”

His wife next to him stared out the Land Cruiser’s front window, neither engaging in the conversation nor meeting eye. Their two kids were pre-schoolers. It was hard to tell the age of Auda and his wife. They looked around 60 but they could have been 40 – Papua New Guineans do not generally enjoy longevity.

Cervical cancer is just one of numerous health crises in PNG. Amid chronic shortages of medicines and complacencies around vaccination programmes, meant diseases like polio, malaria and TB have re-emerged, HIV AIDS is resurgent.

Shortages of basic drugs and supplies, echo shortages of health workers, rather like the situation in schools, where there are often not enough teachers for overcrowded classrooms, where up to 70 students can be taught at once, or funding shortfalls force closure.

Grassroots communities around this country of eight million people are resilient, but there’s no escaping the lapsing state of basic services around the country.

Yet according to the current government, led by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, a unique opportunity for prosperity looms on PNG’s near horizon.

Biggest event
For the past four years, it has increasingly been preoccupied with preparing to host a meeting of leaders from major world powers, the biggest event to take place in this country.

APEC Haus … a grand new national identity building shaped as a traditional sea vessel. Image: Johnny Blades/RNZ Pacific

Now, just a couple weeks out from the APEC Leaders Summit, big road and venue constructions are nearing completion and APEC Haus, a grand new national identity building shaped as a traditional sea vessel, has been unveiled on Port Moresby’s waterfront.

“In school I found out that APEC stands for Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation,” Auda said, “but actually… what is APEC?”

APEC, according to PNG’s Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer Charles Abel, was “part of selling the country”.

“We need investment, we need partnerships, we need capital to develop our country. So APEC is going to present a wonderful marketing opportunity,” he explained.

“Because there’s so many opportunities with the natural wealth that we have and the beautiful people that we have and the wonderful culture that we have. This Asia Pacific region is going to be the major growth driver in the coming years. PNG is well placed here.”

Here at the junction of Asia and the Pacific, 2018 is turning out to be a landmark year, but perhaps for reasons other than what the government projected

Tribal violence
Tribal violence surged again in the Highlands, adding to the death toll from lingering fighting between supporters of rival candidates in last year’s elections. It’s worsened the suffering of a region reeling from February’s magnitude 7.5 earthquake disaster which caused almost 200 deaths and widespread devastation of homes and buildings.

As if that wasn’t enough, a state of emergency was declared in Southern Highlands after major political unrest erupted again in June. The sight of one of the national carrier’s planes destroyed at Mendi airport during the unrest was shocking for Papua New Guineans. Then last month they saw images of a second Air Niugini plane written off, sinking in the sea off an airstrip in Micronesia

Symbolism means a lot in APEC year, and the government’s many critics see signs the country is on the verge of social breakdown.

But the government has trucked on relentlessly with its infrastructure drive for APEC, depending heavily on assistance from the likes of China, with Australia, New Zealand and others chipping in significantly to help PNG pull off the summit.

While Port Moresby may have newly sealed roads in time for the summit, the highway leading into the capital was frequently pot-holed, and even a skilled driver like Junior was having troubled navigating them.

Gripping at the seat, Auda said, in Port Moresby this year, it has been impossible to escape the APEC hoo-ha. But prepared to give it a chance, he suggested APEC could be a potential band-aid for his country.

“APEC should be supplying us some kind of services like education, road infrastructure and health,” he explained.

Hanuabada village in stilts and Port Moresby’s city skyline … ordinary people are hoping for infrastructure benefits from APEC 2018. Image: Johnny Blades/RNZPacific

Election plan
Auda revealed that he intended to stand for a seat in the next local level government election.

“If I win a seat, then I will start putting my submission to (the government), a strategy plan for pushing through government services.”

As Auda outlined his practical plans for the future, his wife, who would probably not live to see him don his campaign rosette, continued to stare out the window.

Only when her little kids started arguing over a fidget spinner did she snap out of it, tending to them affectionately, before taking up a thousand-yard stare again

Promises of “development” have long been a feature of the country’s politics, but rarely come to fruition. Some big resource projects have got off the ground, but the benefit flows have been uneven.

It’s hard for people to swallow the government’s claims that hosting APEC, all its hundreds of meetings this year and the big upcoming summit, will benefit PNG’s general population.

“People say that because of this APEC, all the funds are being misused on APEC,” said Ken, shaking his head

Maserati outcry
This month there was a public outcry over the government’s purchase of 40 Maserati cars and other luxury vehicles to use for transporting leaders at the summit.

The cars were “being committed to be paid for by the private sector…at no overall cost to the State”, PNG’s APEC Minister Justin Tkatchenko said.

We came into the city by the seaside village of Hanuabada, with its houses on stilts above the inshore waters of the harbour.

Here we dropped off the family where they’d be able to catch a bus onwards.

“I have a hope which is Jesus Christ, that my wife will stay until whatever God wants,” said Auda before getting out of the vehicle.

His wife was still staring far away as we drove on. I followed her gaze, which led across the bay to the growing skyline of Port Moresby’s CBD.

The afternoon light bounced off the big buildings.

Just around the corner, on the reclaimed foreshore, APEC Haus stood glistening. Ready or not, PNG’s moment in the sun is coming.

The APEC summit begins on the November 17.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

While PNG promotes APEC big money, youth are building grassroots resilience

The countdown to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea is well underway. As the PNG government finalises preparations for this high-level meeting next month, instability is growing from pressing development issues. But, reports Pauline Mago-King of Asia Pacific Journalism,  some of the youth are committed to strengthening their country’s resilience.

The reoccurring theme in bridging various social gaps remains to be sensitisation for young people.

For Papua New Guinea, issues ranging from gender relations to health have worsened over the years, making them a norm for the people.

While the PNG government buckles down for the APEC summit, polio has emerged, tuberculosis persists due to multidrug resistance, and violations of human rights are ever-present as in cases like that of the Paga Hill villagers struggle.

APJS NEWSFILE

Papus New Guinea’s progress may seem obscure. However, this should not overshadow the mobilisation of young Papua New Guineans at the community level.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), around 60 percent of young people under 25 account for PNG’s population 8.5 million.

The disproportionate percentage of young Papua New Guineans calls for more engaging avenues that will translate into overall development at community levels.

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Executive director of UNFPA Dr Natalia Kanem says the investment in young people’s capabilities, as well as creating opportunities for them, will build peaceful, cohesive and resilient societies.

Cultural settings
Equally important, these opportunities require sustainability so that they are also contextually relevant to PNG’s diverse cultural settings.

As the PNG government focuses on “unlocking” its economic potential, the mobilisation of youth largely rests with non-governmental and faith-based organisations such as The Voice Inc., Equal Playing Field, Youth Against Corruption Association – to name a few.

Last month, PNG’s Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato told the United Nations General Assembly that the “government recognises the importance of putting in place the building blocks needed to enable inclusive and participatory development.”

He added that it was their priority to create employment opportunities that would match the needs of Papua New Guinean youth.

Concrete action in this area, however, remain bleak, particularly in light of 500 procured APEC-vehicles, outbreak of preventable diseases and drug shortages in hospitals around PNG.

As such, the work of various organisations to equip youth in shaping civic affairs is paramount.

Education at the grassroots level, along with platforms to communicate the acquired information, provide a bridging factor for youth to spread “sensitisation” during a time when governance is questionable.

Changing mindsets
This can be seen in movements such as the newly homegrown project SKILLZ PNG.

Last month, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) PNG in partnership with adolescent health organisation Grassroots Soccer, launched SKILLZ.

The project uses soccer as a vehicle for at-risk youth “to overcome their greatest health challenges… and be agents for change in their communities”.

The same way one manoeuvres a soccer ball, the same can be done in life when it comes to health and gender risks. Image: Pauline Mago-King/PMC

Grassroots Soccer Master trainer Nicole Banister says the project gives participants the platform to express themselves.

“It was incredible for me to see how some of the shyer participants really blossom throughout the training. They really found their voice in terms of facilitating, working with their peers, praise openly and build personal connections across organisations, different sexes, different ages and cultures – all of which are important to build a community in PNG.”

For a country like PNG, SKILLZ offers a continuum of care for youth to combat prevalent issues such as gender-based violence.

In addition, it provides a conducive environment for youth to develop a better understanding of PNG’s health system and their own health needs.

Training of coaches
Over a period of two weeks, 20 youth participants from varying backgrounds underwent SKILLZ PNG’s “training of coaches” workshop.

SKILLZ PNG participants during a session. Image: YWCA PNG

To an outsider, this workshop may seem just any other ordinary event.

It is, in fact, a necessary movement for young Papua New Guineans especially when high levels of violence can provide a sense of “disillusionment”,  as stated by The Voice Inc.’s chairperson, Serena Sumanop.

For Joshua Ganeki, a 27-year-old participant, SKILLZ PNG gave him a chance to do something purposeful.

Having graduated from Port Moresby Business College in 2014, he found it difficult to secure employment and thus resorted to doing odd jobs, and then eventually volunteering with YWCA.

His passion for helping young people led him to SKILLZ PNG and prompted a self-reflection on gender expectations.

Rights, responsibilities
“One thing I learnt is our society has gender expectations, especially for women and that is wrong. We need to break these norms and become equal team players and partners in life.

“SKILLZ PNG is trying to make us more aware of our rights, responsibilities as men and women.”

For others such as 21-year-old Kevlyne Yosia, the training strengthened her confidence in being an agent of change.

“Back in year 11, my class was having a discussion on politics and a male classmate told me that my place was in the kitchen so I have no place talking about such things. It made me feel bad because I knew other women are told the same thing.

“But it also made me stand my ground that I have a right to voice my opinion, and so do other women,” said Yosia.

She added that the training enabled herself and others to realise that support and appreciation for genders is essential in fostering healthy relationships.

Development goals
While projects such as SKILLZ PNG are vital, so are their alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

For YWCA PNG, its work with Grassroots Soccer has empowered more youth to be SDG champions in a political climate that is self-serving.

SKILLZ PNG’s coverage of goals such as “good health and wellbeing”, “gender equality” and “partnership for goals” means that more young people will feel empowered and equipped to participate in civic engagements.

Although this project has seen only one group graduate onto becoming coaches in their communities, Grassroots Soccer master trainer Alex Bozwa said: “I’m incredibly optimistic for the work that these people will be doing with other young people.”

SKILLZ PNG is currently limited to the capital of Port Moresby but it is a positive step towards leveraging Grassroots Soccer’s large success in the African continent, so that youth on a national level can also participate.

In the meantime, hope remains in young people like Kevlyne Yosia.

“I want to see a better PNG, where I can feel safe as a woman.”

Pauline Mago-King is a masters student based at Auckland University of Technology and is researching gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. She compiled this report for the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia-Pacific Journalism Studies course.

Twitter: @iamatalau04

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Japan’s Kasai nominated as Western Pacific’s next WHO regional director

Japan’s candidate, Dr Takeshi Kasai … elected in spite of strong Pacific campaign over the World Health Organisation (WHO) post for Western Pacific. Image: WHO

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Japan’s candidate, Dr Takeshi Kasai, has been elected as the next World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Pacific.

Health ministers and other senior officials from 30 countries voted yesterday during the 69th session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Manila, Philippines.

Dr Kasai’s nomination will be submitted for appointment to the 114th session of the WHO executive board to take place in January 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

READ MORE: Tukuitonga goes into battle on behalf of Pacific

The new regional director will take office on 1 February for a term of five years. Regional directors may serve up to two terms.

Current regional director Dr Shin Young-soo, who has served since 2009, offered best wishes to his successor.

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“I warmly congratulate and sincerely wish Dr Kasai the very best as the next regional director,” he said.

“When he takes the reins in February, he will inherit a strong and robust organisation, and the honour of working with a diverse group of countries joined by a formidable bond of solidarity and an unwavering commitment to delivering better health for all.”

New Zealand campaign
New Zealand campaigned in support of Dr Colin Tukuitonga for the position and he came second out of the four candidates in the running. The other chief candidates were from the Philippines and Malaysia.

If successful, Dr Tukuitonga would have been the first Regional Director from New Zealand and the first of Pacific descent.

Dr Tukuitonga was unanimously nominated by Pacific health ministers in 2017 as their candidate for the Regional Director position. New Zealand subsequently supported Dr Tukuitonga, who is a New Zealander of Niuean origin.

“Although we are disappointed with the result, we are pleased that we fought a good campaign and can hold our heads high,” said Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa, who was in Manila to support New Zealand’s candidate in the election.

“The region has made its decision and they have chosen to elect the Japanese candidate. We wish him well in his new role and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Later this week, the regional committee will adopt action plans to address a variety of health issues affecting the region’s nearly 1.9 billion people. They include:

  • Fighting neglected tropical diseases;
  • Strengthening rehabilitation services;’
  • Improving hospital planning and management;
  • Harnessing e-health for improved service delivery; and
  • Strengthening legal frameworks for health in the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Regional Committee will also discuss progress on health security, infectious and noncommunicable diseases, and environmental health.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

VP’s camp defers to Duterte over his health disclosure – ‘he knows his oath’

Health controversy: The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo in the Philippines says it respects the declaration of President Rodrigo Duterte that his recent medical tests came back negative. Image: Rappler montage

By Lian Buan in Manila

The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo is keen on pushing for the public disclosure of President Rodrigo Duterte’s state of health, saying they trust what the President says about the results of his medical tests.

“We respect his declaration,” Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said yesterday.

Duterte told his Cabinet members in a meeting on Monday night that his recent medical tests came back negative for cancer.

READ  MORE: President’s health – touchy subject for Duterte, public concern for constitution

Gutierrez said it was up to the President to decide when to disclose his state of health.

“The Vice-President understands that the President also took the oath, he understands the Constitution, and he should know his obligations under the Constitution with respect to disclosure on his true state of health,” Gutierrez said.

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Gutierrez added in Filipino: “We are happy that the President is well. The VP has said that it’s clear nobody wants the President to be sick, we want him healthy, we want him working. So if he says it’s like that, then I suppose we must respect it.”

State of health
Duterte had revealed undergoing endoscopy or colonoscopy, where doctors found a “growth”. Duterte said he would inform the public if he had cancer.

The 1987 Constitution states that the President must disclose the state of his health if he has a “serious illness”.

Asked for his legal opinion, Solicitor-General Jose Calida dismissed the topic.

“That’s not the business of the Solicitor-General to find out the health of anybody,” Calida said yesterday, adding that “I’m not a busybody, I mind my own business.”

Section 8, Article VII, of the 1987 Constitution says the vice-president shall serve as the president “in case of death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation” of the latter. The VP will serve only the president’s unexpired term.

When Duterte revealed he had undergone colonoscopy, the President said he would not want Robredo to take over the presidency because “she is really weak”. The Vice-President responded, saying the President should just get to work instead of insulting her.

Draft rejected
On Monday, it was revealed that the draft constitution authored by House Speaker Gloria Arroyo skipped the Vice-President in the line of succession during the proposed transition to a federal system.

The Senate immediately shot down the House draft.

“To introduce an amendment, they need 3/4 vote in both the House and the Senate, and I’m confident we have enough right-thinking senators who will not follow that kind of proposal,” Gutierrez said.

The Robredo camp had earlier slammed the proposal and its basis as “outright ridiculous”.

Lian Buan is a journalist with the independent news website Rappler.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Tukuitonga goes into battle on behalf of Pacific for WHO position

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, a New Zealander of Niuean descent and proposed by New Zealand, was given resounding support for his nomination from Pacific countries. Image: AUT

By Sri Krishnamurthi

Health challenges in the Pacific Islands require acute and immediate attention from the World Health Organisation, says Dr Colin Tukuitonga, a New Zealander of Niuean descent whose nomination was proposed by New Zealand.

Dr Tukuitonga goes into battle this week for the position of WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, in a struggle which takes place on October 8-13 in Manila, Philippines.

He is up against three others – Dr Narimah Awin, proposed by Malaysia; Dr Takeshi Kasai, proposed by Japan; Dr Susan Mercado, proposed by the Philippines – at the nomination which will take place during the 69th session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific.

READ MORE: Background on the WHO issue

“I know what needs to be done,” he says emphatically.

“Without a doubt it is our turn, not just for climate change but other health challenges such as Non-communicable diseases (NCD) (diabetes and heart disease) child health, polio in Papua New Guinea, and the list goes on.”

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He says it is a position that needs fresh thinking and new leadership in keeping with good governance rather than being bogged in the mire of bureaucracy.

Already Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have publicly indicated they will vote for Japan.

‘More of the same’
“Voting for Japan is a vote for more of the same. The candidate is a long-term staff member of WHO,” says Dr Tukuitonga.

“WHO Western Pacific Region (WPRO) needs change and transformation, lift impact, get value for money, improve transparency and accountability. The region needs diversity in leadership.”

Dr Tukuitonga is guarded against talk of the money-game buying votes in the process.

“Only in so far as offers made by Japan to small islands, such as a new airport extension in Solomon Islands,” he says, and quickly adds “New Zealand is meeting most of the costs of my campaign”.

His expectation is that all the Pacific Island countries will back him – at least when it comes to voting from the second round onwards. However, he expects that he has done all the work he could to convince countries to vote for him.

“It is hard to say which way countries will vote, but all Polynesia, plus Micronesia, plus Nauru and New Zealand, Australia, France and the United Kingdom have indicated support for me,” he says.

“Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji have signalled support for Japan.
Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have made public statements supporting Japan.
We are told Vanuatu and Fiji also (supporting Japan), but it is not public.”

Nomination backed
It was only last year that the Pacific Island countries backed his nomination for the regional director’s position, and he is left wondering what the difference is now.

“They (Pacific Island Countries) approached me to stand back in October 2017. We can’t win without remaining united, where is the regionalism? Where’s the Pacific way?” he asks.

And Dr Tukuitonga answers the question himself.

“I suppose it’s an issue for Pacific leaders.

“Do we believe in our ability to influence global and regional affairs? Do we have the skills and talent as a region, rather than being viewed as passive, poor and dependent? Can we truly harness our collective power?

“Solomons benefited from RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands), and now this! Where’s the solidarity? Is there a future for regionalism? Is regionalism a fact or a fallacy?” he asks.

In the meantime, Dr Tukuitonga must gird his loins for battle and at stake is the championing of the Western Pacific region.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology. He is attached to the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme, filing for USP’s Wansolwara News and the AUT Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Loss of MSF mental health carers from Nauru heightens fears for children

Doctors Without Borders staff at a display tent during Nauru’s 50th independence celebrations in January. Image: MSF

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Health and human rights advocates fear the mental ill-health of refugees on Nauru could worsen following the Pacific government’s move to scrap a vital support service.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF – Médecins Sans Frontières) was told on Friday its free psychological and psychiatric services, provided to both Nauruans and refugees since November 2017, were “no longer required”.

The medical aid agency was given 24 hours to cease operations which is comprised of a clinic at the Republic of Nauru Hospital and home visits.

READ MORE: Manus and Nauru background and updates

The organisation indicated a desire to find a way to continue its work, reports Australian Associated Press.

“At this stage MSF wishes to reiterate our strong commitment to providing quality mental health care to all those in need on the island,” a spokesperson said.

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“We are extremely concerned that the health of our patients may be affected by this decision and urge the authorities to grant us permission to continue our lifesaving work.”

The abrupt dismissal follows a report by two prominent Australian refugee organisations saying most refugee children on Nauru are experiencing life-threatening mental health problems, including not eating or drinking and showing suicidal symptoms.

An Australian protest over deteriorating conditions for children at the Nauru detention centre. Image: Al Jazeera

‘Add to distress’
Advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition said MSF’s absence would “add enormously to the distress among asylum seekers and refugees” because the Australian government’s contracted mental health care provider, International Health and Medical Services, was “stretched to breaking point”.

The Department of Home Affairs said on Saturday MSF’s dismissal was a matter for the Nauruan government and that it would continue to provide “appropriate healthcare and mental health support to refugees and asylum seekers through contracted service providers”.

MSF uses more than 30,000 doctors, nurses and other mostly volunteer personnel to provide medical aid in more than 70 countries.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Japanese development aid funding splits Pacific unity on key WHO post

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, a New Zealander of Niuean descent and proposed by New Zealand, was given resounding support for his nomination from Pacific countries. Image: AUT

The Western Pacific post for the World Health Organisation is a vitally important role for the region. However, reports Sri Krishnamurthi for Asia Pacific Journalism, the earlier unity over a strong Pacific candidate has slipped.

All the headlines at the recent Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru were political so the upcoming nomination for the election next month for the key role of World Health Organisation regional director for the Western Pacific went largely unnoticed.

The Pacific’s endorsement of Colin Tukuitonga, a New Zealander of Niuean descent and proposed by New Zealand, was resounding and support for his nomination from all countries had seemed to be a fait accompli.

He along with three others – Dr Narimah Awin, proposed by Malaysia; Dr Takeshi Kasai, proposed by Japan; Dr Susan Mercado, proposed by the Philippines – were then in the running for the nomination which will take place during the 69th session of the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific in Manila, Philippines, on October 8-13.

READ MORE: Building healthy communities on the Pacific

APJS NEWSFILE

“Yes, all health ministers agreed and endorsed me at the WHO Regional Committee Meeting held in Brisbane in October 2017.

“They agreed to have one candidate and five ministers approached me to stand,” Tukuitonga told Asia-Pacific Report.

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At the forum in Nauru he learned that the endorsement from the Pacific Island states was not as united as first thought.

“Since then, we are aware that Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have expressed public support for the Japanese candidate [Dr Kasai],” he says.

Most of Pacific supportive
“We understand that this is in exchange for Japan paying for developments in country. We also understand that Vanuatu has made the same decision.”

“We understand that all other Pacific nations remain supportive, including New Zealand and Australia as well as other nations.”

The Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community says it is a positive for the role being at the PIF, it provided an opportunity to network with the leaders.

“All regional agencies – the council for regional organisations in the Pacific (CROP) decisions and priorities are influenced by forum leaders decisions. It is also a good opportunity to meet Pacific leaders and others.

“PIF presents a lot of opportunities to meet bilaterally with donors and those that are present. It also a critical forum”.

He does have a view on the 120 children in the detention camps on Nauru and their mental state but does not want to air it publicly.

But he is happy to voice his concerns about the health of Pacific people.

Diabetes, heart disease major problem
“Non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and heart disease are the major cause of death and disease,” says the former chief executive of NZ’s Ministry for Pacific Island Affairs.

“NCDs are fuelled by poor diets, low levels of physical activity, high rates of smoking and high prevalence of obesity.

“In some Pacific nations, child health diseases remain high due to lack of clean water and sanitation. All Pacific health systems are fragile and underfunded leading to high preventable deaths and disabilities.

“Continuing high fertility rates putting pressure on government services in all Pacific countries. PNG also has high rates of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria,” says Dr Tukuitonga.

Making matters worse for the people of the Pacific is the very realistic issue of climate change.

“A clear and present danger for all Island nations, threatening lives and livelihoods, we have five of the 15 countries most vulnerable to disasters are in Pacific,’’ he says.

“Climate change causes less dramatic impacts such as ocean acidification, causing coral bleaching and threatening the food chain and it provides 80 percent of the protein source for Pacific communities which come from fish and seafood.

Big deal
“Threats on food security is a big deal for the Pacific. Significant negative health impacts such as spread of mosquito-borne dengue fever and other diseases.

“Climate change aggravates existing problems, so preparedness is key for example, outbreaks post disaster is the result of existing organisms, not new organisms.”

He has worked for WHO before and finds it “challenging” but not a mission impossible.

Sri Krishnamurthi is a journalist and Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student at Auckland University of Technology. He is attached to the University of the South Pacific’s Journalism Programme, filing for USP’s Wansolwara News and the AUT Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report.

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Article by AsiaPacificReport.nz

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media