Malaria struck MP who couldn’t find drugs at district clinic questions Health Minister

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Ijivitari MP, Richard Masere, couldn’t find antimalarial drugs at district and provincial hospital in Popondetta, questioned the health minister about the drug shortages.  He was airlifted to Port Moresby for treatment. 

Before we get to the  story about the politican, let’s take a look back at how it  began…

Two weeks ago,   a senior doctor who works at Lae’s Angau Hospital added to the long list of health professionals who  are pointing out the obvious:   There is a severe medicine shortage  throughout the country.

Dr. Lincoln Menda  has served in the public health system for  36 years is the most senior health professional to  speak out about the medicine shortages.    His primary job is to visit clinics all over the Morobe Province to treat  and refer people with serious medical problems to the main hospitals.

He has not been able to do his job well.

We need drugs. We are facilitators of the end users of the drugs. They are our clients. We are now prescribing drugs for all our clients to buy it from the private sector,” he said.

 “We are passing the buck when the government is telling us that that drugs and everything are supposed to be free. Treatment in hospitals is  supposed to be free.

Dr. Menda was at the Milfordhaven clinic, one of seven urban clinics facing a dire shortage of medicines and other supplies.   In the clinic’s dispensary,  the shelves were  void of  much needed  basic  supplies.  On a list provided by the officer in charge,  he noted antibiotic, painkillers and  antimalarial drugs are in short supply.

“Everywhere I go, I carry folders of prescription forms. I prescribe everything for Panadol to amoxicillin to  other major medical drugs that need a doctor’s prescription.  Everything from Panadol,  asprin, malaria drugs are non-existent  currently.”

 Dr. Menda wasn’t the only one to speak out.  Nurses who are at the front line of health service delivery also spoke out about the shortages.

The situation also took a personal toll on health staff. Unable to handle patient numbers and unable to adequately treat those in need, one senior nurse broke down  in the middle on the interview.

 Over the course of the month, the health department  and the health minister didn’t respond adequately  to the concerns. Partly because  those at the top of the health pyramid including the minister weren’t  well informed of the situation on the ground.

It took a week of intense media attention, before the  health minister finally responded  with a statement outside of  parliament.The Minister’s statements came only after a shipment of drugs were sent to Lae a day before we took photographs of medicines stocked at the Area Medical store in Lae. We was not allowed to film inside the warehouse.

The Area store manager told us to get permission from the Health Secretary before any information could be released.  They also wouldn’t tell us when the shipment of medicines  arrived.

As nurses and medical professionals continued to speak out and while much of the focus was on Lae,  it was increasingly becoming obvious that the shortages  were  affecting nearly everyone…

…including members of parliament…

Ijivitari MP, Richard Masere, who was struck down by malaria couldn’t find  antimalarial drugs at the district and provincial hospitals.  He raised the issue in parliament.

So Puka Temu responded again this time in Parliament….

The lengthy explanation  also highlighted the fact that they wouldn’t have known about  if the media had not highlighted it…. And that  poor internal communications, a shortage of manpower and theft   were a contributing factors to the medicine shortages.

Any serious journalist in Papua New Guinea seeking an answer from the Health department knows,   that it is quite difficult getting a response from the Health Secretary.  Also, Maybe… just maybe…  It would help the public health system a lot if  more members of parliament  actually used the public health system.

Then, they would know how their voters felt.

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Cabinet to make a decision to control teacher debt owed to finance companies

Papua New Guinea’s Education Minister, has drawn attention to the debt owed by teachers all over the country to finance companies.

While figure has not been put on the amount owed, there are indications, it is a widespread problem affecting public servants all over the country who are struggling to keep up with high costs.

Nick Kuman has since made a submission to the National Executive Council that he says “will affect public servants all over the country.”

“We got to find a way to solve all these problems. We had a similar situation in 2014 when all the finance companies got together and took us to court and there is a court order in place. Only yesterday, I was served another court order to prevent us from not allowing teachers from obtaining loans,” he said.

“We want to see that they must be managed from the teachers accounts themselves.”

“For any other deductions, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Public Service and I will make a joint statement and inform the country on what our position is.”

Kuman made the statement in Parliament as part of an explanation of the pay cuts to teachers salaries.

Kuman said salary deductions that had left many teachers with less than K100 in their accounts over three consecutive fortnights.

Investigations by the Education Department have indicated that many of the deductions experienced by teachers were due to loans that teachers took out, against the temporary salary increases

As part of an agreement between the government and the PNG Teachers Association, the Education Department was supposed to pay a 3% increase. However, it didn’t happen earlier because of cash flow problems in 2017. The Government did eventually pay the promised increases in 2018 over several
fortnights.

It has also become apparent that many teachers may not have understood how the amounts were reached or that it was only temporary.

“Because of cash flow problems, the NEC directed that we will make these payments over six and a half pay periods commencing on pay 13 and terminating on pay 19,” Kuman said.

“I want to assure the teachers all over the country that the 3% increase was approved in 2016, over six and a half fortnights. Unfortunately, we had a problem with the Alesco payroll system and the final payment was made in pay 20.”

Kuman gave examples of how teachers would have seen an increase in their salaries over the course of six fortnights followed by a drop after the temporary increase
ended.

“For instance there is a teacher  at Omili Primary School in Lae got loans from six finance companies and this left her with only K7 in her account.”

NBC journalist, Priscilla Waikaidi reports: Police hit and run triggers protests in Alotau

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Two girls, aged 5 and 7 are among three people  killed after  a landcruiser, driven by a sea patrol police unit officers from Lae drove into a group of people in Alotau.

Dr Perista Mamadi, of the Alotau Hospital confirmed at  5pm yesterday  that  the third person is  a 30-year-old woman who died from head injuries. 

Acting Provincial Police Commander, Chief Inspector George Bayagau, said the vehicle was heading into town at about 11am yesterday when they veered off the road at Kwaini outside Alotau and ran into the five people.

Two others who are fighting for their lives have been to the operating theatre and are under strict observation nursing severe head injuries  including a 22-year-old and another 25-year-old woman.

In an emotional appeal, Kevin Ray,  grandfather of the youngest  who died, called for their demands to be addressed. Paramount is the proper funeral and burial for his bubu and niece from Gadaisu. We understand there are other demands from other victim’s families for things like compensation, the necessary work to take to trial and the imprisonment of the Police driver, the removal of the unit from Alotau among a few other demands- this will be via negotiations to rid a roadblock extending from Raven Estates through to Kwaini setup today, community there adamant it will remain until they are satisfied that they’re demands are met.

Ray says “My niece had taken my granddaughter to get her polio vaccination drops and they we’re heading back home when this senseless crime happened, they are now both dead. And by Police whom we look to for security and safety. They must pay for their actions, no one is above the law. It was criminal how they left them there”, before he broke down and wept openly for his loss.

A protest march into town at lunchtime today by disgruntled community was dispersed by warning shots into the air by police, Bayagau confirms this was only ordered after the crowd refused to heed his ask for them to speak with him. 

“I had asked them to stop at Sanderson Bay for them to speak with me, but they kept moving on into town. The fear here is that while this march is genuine, opportunists were among them and taking advantage of the situation to incite violence. We were concerned things could escalate into a similar rampage through town like last year, thus the use of force to turn them back. I’m open to speaking with them and will again receive them when they return tomorrow for proper negotiations to take place towards making grounds with focus on justice being served, and addressing a way forward”. He expressed his deepest condolences for the loss of these innocent lives, adding the driver of the vehicle has been arrested and is in custody, the vehicle impounded, and investigations have begun into this matter.

A second attempt protest march into Alotau late this afternoon also met the same stop, although this time sources report there were gunshots fired by civilians hiding in nearby bushes and backing the protesters, shots were fired showing Police their disdain which saw organizers of the march opting to go back to Kwaini. We are hearing they will regroup for tomorrow again.

From Port Moresby, DPM and Alotau MP Charles Abel who flew out today, also posted, “Another unnecessary tragedy in Alotau by vehicle accident. 3 lives lost. Anger is there but we need to stop and deal with the matter else other innocent people are affected. I’m back in Pom for Parl sitting tomorrow and will return early to Alotau.” He sent his condolences to families of the innocent lives lost, during his address at the NBC Press Club presentation tonight.

Alotau remains tense, families seen departing the town area to elsewhere outside to keep safe, the Sanderson Bay Transit house is filled  to capacity with  stranded passengers. An earlier blackout, a   result of the protest, has been rectified and people  are staying indoors to avoid what could come tomorrow. 

This isn’t the first time such has happened, around 2016 an elderly woman from Waema was hit by a speeding Police vehicle while walking on the side of the road, she was killed instantly.

More details are coming in on this developing story.

Angry offloaded passenger David Jah Blum writes to PX: ‘Replace Tokua Manager’

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Dear Air Niugini,

Please replace or appoint a competent manager to oversee a key port that is not only a gateway but a tourism hub of Papua New Guinea.

Getting off-loaded on a flight from Tokua airport that was supposed travel to Port Moresby  due to technical issues with the plane… It was quite clear the Air Niugini ground crew had either no idea what they were doing or just not prepared to handle an unexpected situation which also includes normal arrivals and departures.

Staff members, which includes the elusive manager,  are too shy or just plain terrified to stand in front of a crowd and talk. There is  plane full of tourists who are on multiple transits eager and impatient for information whilst the ground staff are all hiding behind closed doors talking through a P.A system that sounds as if someone’s in the toilets constipated. It’s a foolproof approach to chasing away tourists and visitors from PNG complimenting all the other negative media PNG gets.

The so called “manager” Jason or whoever, was nowhere to be seen for the whole day and then decides to go home at 4pm whilst all the paying passengers are made to wait indefinitely until they are finally informed at 6pm that the flight is canceled. Even the Air Niugini ground crew when asked seemed confused or surprised that there was a manager.

Off-loaded PNG passengers had to take the initiative and common sense as hosts and guides to usher our expatriate visitors into the departure lounge rather than sit outside Tokua terminal as advised by the Air Niugini ground crew, for 6 hours in tropical heat waiting to be informed their flight is canceled. It got to a point where you couldn’t discern between the staff and passengers.

Technical issues and unexpected delays are inevitable and Air Niugini has contingencies in place. But you need people with the proper driven attitude, the right personality, and most importantly “brains” to ensure every individual remains, calm, comfortable and confident that Air Niugini is doing its best and in full control of the situation at hand. Even if it’s not, no one would notice if they’re being properly pampered.

No one would go up to an Air Niugini counter unless they paid for the service it provides. I’m sure Air Niugini pays its employees to provide that service.

GOOD LUCK WITH THE FESTIVE SEASON

Minister giving K1.5 mill to YWAM is infuriating as health facilities face medicine shortages

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As Papua New Guineans struggle with medicine shortages in nearly all  public health facilities, Youth With A Mission (YWAM) statement showing a smiling minister for health presenting a cheque of K1.5 million has enraged many Papua New Guineans.

The reason for the anger is because it is quite insulting that  the  Health Minister  moves quickly in  funding an already well funded international  organization  with taxpayers money as  the existing health system collapses  all around us.

In the long term, the YWAM program is unsustainable in PNG. Let’s face it.  They come and they go. In the downtime, the heavily burdened health system is left with the same patients and the same problems.

There are very basic  systematic problems  that need to be fixed.  Problems like  the flow of medicines from the area medical stores to the clinics and hospitals.  If there is someone stealing or abusing the process, it is the Minister’s role to commission an investigation (if the Health Secretary can’t do it) and get to the bottom of the problem.  Resolve it, for goodness sake.

While I have the greatest respect for the YWAM program, it  is a band aid solution. It looks good because politicians are “seen to be delivering services.”  It is It is a  politically cool option.

But why can’t we spend  that money to fix our systems? Why can’t we fund our own outreach programs and develop our own staff like we used to.   Make it cool to be a community health worker or a nurse who goes on regular government funded patrols.  Put them on boats like the YWAM guys and get them out there.

We have to be able to go to the National Cancer Center in Lae  when our relatives are ill.  Have you checked the price of one tooth extraction lately?   Have you checked if the dental clinics  can fill cavities?  You will be surprised how  much we have come to accept the poor state of public health services.

I’m not saying reinvent the wheel.

Papua New Guinea has a GOOD health system. It is people focused. There are staff that are committed and the medicine is provided free.  Where did we go wrong?   It’s a question best answered by those with intimate knowledge of the health system.

I say again, there is a  medicine shortage. Don’t point fingers. Just get someone in those comfortable offices to  go to Lae and other centers  and see  the problem for themselves.

 

Let’s be honest! Nearly every public health facility is facing a medicine shortage

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Merut Kilamu being given the last bottles of Amoxycillin suspension for her baby.

In Lae 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.

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.

“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 for medicines. Pharmacies are profiting from the desperation and ill health of the Papua New Guineans.  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.”

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.


NOTE:  I personally sourced this information. 

Patients told to buy medicines at pharmacies as Lae’s urban clinics run short

medication-transparent-4Hundreds of patients are being referred to Lae’s  Angau Hospital and pharmacies as  urban clinics in city  run short  of basic drugs and medical supplies.

At Buimo Clinic, staff showed a near empty dispensary.  They have run out of antibiotics and antimalarial drugs including  the government approved  Mala 1,  used in the first line of treatment at  smaller clinics.

“We don’t have antibiotics like amoxicillin, septrin and chloramphenicol,”  says Miriam Key,  the officer in charge. “Not even primaquine which is used in combination with Mala1.  Primaquin is used to treat malaria parasites in the liver.”

Many of the staff at Buimo Clinic have never openly spoken about the drug shortages out of fear that they might be penalized.  But after battling with the problem for three years,  they have now  revealed  that the Government Area Medical Store has not been providing a regular supply of  the Mala 1 antimalarial since 2015.

Much of their medicines come from donor partners who should, ideally,  be supplementing the main government supply.  Along with bed nets, the clinic gets antimalarial drugs from Rotary Against Malaria – a volunteer organization which has become an important partner in the fight against malaria.

In August and September 2017,  when the supplies of antimalarial drugs ran short,  clinics throughout Lae continued to  refer patients to pharmacies for their medical supplies.  Pharmacies in turn, increased prices from an average of K40 per treatment course to K80.

“In that period our malaria stats rose significantly,” says Miriam Key.  “Many people can’t afford K40. They can’t even afford K2.

“We are dealing with the urban poor who can’t afford the pay.  We keep the clinic open even when there is no medicine just so we can give them proper diagnosis and then refer them to a hospital or a pharmacy.

“I’ve told families not to contribute money to funerals but to contribute to pay for medicine when one of them gets sick.  Lives are more important.”

The story is the same for  Malahang Urban Clinic, one of the busiest in Lae City.   Staff report that they received half of what is needed for the months of September and October.

“Patients often come back to the clinic because they can’t afford to pay for medicines at the pharmacies,” a staff member said.


This is a developing story. If you have any further information, please contact me.