PORT MORESBY - A ministerial circular gagging health professionals and hospital managements around Papua New Guinea from making public statements has drawn the ire of the national secretary of the Doctor’s Association.
Dr Sam Yockopua (pictured) has described the circular as a dictatorial attempt to intimidate and suppress health workers.
“This is political propaganda meant to mislead and shut people who are speaking out about a bureaucracy that is not working,” he said.
The circular - issued by health minister Sir Puka Temu on 15 August - said that recent information relating to health functions had been distorted and disseminated and that this “created fear and confusion in the community.”
The health minister also issued broad ranging orders stopping health professionals at all levels from talking to the media.
“I now instruct and direct that no individual health worker or chief executive officer or management and boards at all levels shall provide any information on any subject of health….to any means of media. This should only be made the office of the minister….”
The health system has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. Earlier this month, a notice issued by the Port Moresby General Hospital stating the price of snake anti-venom at K15,000 brought widespread public condemnation.
The notice was also posted on social media by doctors and medical professionals who raised their concerns about the price.
It later forced the hospital to reverse its decision and make a separate statement on the matter.
Dr Yockopua, who is chief of emergency medicine at Port Moresby General Hospital, has also gone to the media on various occasions.
In February, he put out an SOS message on Facebook calling on members of the public to donate supplies which included face masks, gloves, alcohol swabs and urine bags.
“My duty as a clinician is to provide health care. I will do what I need as a doctor to do my job,” he said.
“If the bureaucracy is not working, we have to find an alternative system to make things work.
“When I put out that SOS, within 20 to 30 minutes, the public came with medicines and consumables. We cannot be bullied by ministers.”
Dr Yockopua, who has been a vocal critic of the national government, said the health ministry and department must create an avenue for public feedback.
“Create a Facebook page or Whatsapp group or something that allows for the public and health workers to tell you what is wrong with the system.
“To suppress people from speaking out is an act of intimidation.”