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Tragedy awaits as PNG runs out of HIV & other medicines

Dr Glen Mola
Dr Glen Mola - 'becoming more difficult for doctors & nurses to stay positive'


PORT MORESBY – It’s not always good news. Today we heard at our staff meeting at Port Moresby General Hospital that we have run out of antiretroviral (ART or HIV) medicines.

We have many thousands of HIV positive people on treatment in the National Capital District (and several more thousands around the rest of the country) and they may not have any medicine to take unless new supplies arrive in the very near future.

People on ART must take their medicine every single day: if they stop and start again they are very likely to breed resistant HIV.

This is not only bad (in fact life-threatening) for the patient, but life-threatening for everybody else in the community who might catch HIV from them.

We also don't have any syphilis test kits in the country. Syphilis used to be the commonest cause of stillbirth (babies dying inside their mothers) in our audit statistics - and after we started routine testing of all mothers coming to ante-natal clinics and treating the positives we virtually eliminated this scourge from our pregnant mums.

But now, with no test kits available, the syphilis problem will come back and many babies will die.

And this week we ran out of oxytocin, the drug that prevents women from losing too much blood when they deliver babies.

The commonest cause of death when oxytocin is not available is post-partum haemorrhage (excessive bleeding after the birth); so we are probably going to see a lot more mothers die even when they come to hospital to have a supervised birth.

And we are very short of surgical sutures - the special thread and needle that surgeons use to sew up patients during and after operations.

Every day we don't have some essential item that is critical to standard medical practice.

And the PNG government does not pay for any of the family planning commodities - pills, depo-provera, implants etc. They are all donated to us by the United Nations Population Fund and other overseas donor agencies.

Eventually this will stop, because PNG has recently been upgraded to a middle income country because of our oil and gas extractive industries.

And if the government does not step up and buy the family planning commodities that we need to assist people to plan their families, I’m not sure what the consequences will be.

Most doctors and nurses try to stay positive about their work but in the face of a government that does not support the health system - it is becoming more and more difficult.

We know there are millions of kina available for high profile stuff like various intensive care facilities at PMGH (coronary care, trauma, cardiac catheterisation, renal dialysis) that benefits only a minority (less than 1% of patients).

But how come there is no money for the majority (99%) of patients - the sick kids, the women delivering babies, the people every night needing emergency surgery, the HIV and TB patients, families needing contraceptive to plan their families.

"The answer my friend is blowing in the wind......" - Bob Dylan.

Can we all please start putting pressure on the government to fund the health service properly - and not just through Borneo Pacific.

Dr Glen Mola  MBBS DPH FRCOG FRANZCOG MRACGP is a professor in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of PNG


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Joe Herman

The Health Minister is supposed to be advocating for the department? Where is he? What good is it to show case a building for APEC when our grassroots people don't get the basic health care?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Professor Mola has been in PNG a long time and can't be far off retirement. He's weathered attacks from government politicians over his long tenure but I'm guessing this current lot will be baying for his blood in earnest. All we can do is wish him well and congratulate him on speaking out. PNG has really reached the pits.

Will Self

The biggest question of all - how has the Secretary for Health kept his job for so many years?

Daniel Kumbon

Comments which started pouring in on social media have been overwhelming. Some of them:

‘We are doomed to hell. Whoever is going to church, please pray without ceasing….we have been neglected by our very own leaders.’

‘We deserve to die because we supported corruption.’

‘Losing faith in this government already. It has failed the people big time.’

‘Ol money from natural resources ya ol go raun lo America na ol no kam bek yet na that’s why nogat money long country to buy drugs or for other development purposes. Yumi wait, a miracle might happen tomorrow.'

‘The light in PNG is getting dimmer and dimmer every day… a very sad state of affairs in the country.’

‘Let's hope that PNC [main party in the governing coalition] will deliver PNG.’

‘Not enough money? Corruption? Who knows…’

‘What has happened with that annual K300 million plus contract awarded to Borneo Pharmaceuticals to procure medical drugs, kits, equipment to all medical facilities across the country?'

The last comment is a legitimate question and I wonder if the Minister for Health has an answer for it.

Daniel Kumbon

The story has gone viral here in Wabag.

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