SCOTT WAIDE | My Land, My Country
LAE - Before we get to the story about the politician, 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 Papua New Guinea.
Dr Lincoln Menda has served in the public health system for 36 years and is the most senior health professional to speak out about the medicine shortages.
His primary job is to visit clinics all over 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,” he said. “We are now prescribing drugs for our clients to buy them from the private sector.
“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 antibiotics, painkillers and antimalarial drugs were in short supply.
“Everywhere I go, I carry folders of prescription forms. I prescribe everything from Panadol to amoxicillin to other major medical drugs that need a doctor’s prescription.
“Everything from Panadol, aspirin, 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 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 of the interview.
Over the course of the month, the health department and the health minister didn’t respond adequately to these 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 parliament. The statement came only after a shipment of drugs wase sent to Lae the day before we took photographs of medicines stocked at the area medical store there. We were 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 after being airlifted to Port Moresby for treatment.
So Puka Temu responded again, this time in parliament.
The lengthy explanation also highlighted facts they wouldn’t have known about if the media had not highlighted them. And that poor internal communications, a shortage of manpower and theft were a contributing factors to the medicine shortages.
Any serious journalist in PNG 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 it.
Then they would know how their voters felt.