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By Robert Iroga

By | Solomon Islands records its first COVID-19 Case | No Comments

Solomon Islands has recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case today, in its capital Honiara. The single confirmed case is being quarantined at National Referral Hospital (NRH) in its isolation ward.


Minister for Health Dr Culwick Togamana has disclosed that precautionary measures have also been undertaken with the patient (COVID-19 patient) at NRH Isolation ward that included doctor – patient communication via mobile phone and staff of isolation ward 1 and 2 restricted from crossing over.

Speaking to the nation today to detail what his ministry is doing after the country has recorded its first COVID-19 case, with the patient now in the NRH Isolation Ward, Togamana said it has also been agreed that family and relatives are to bring clothing for the patient with all dirty clothes to be kept in bag for wash after discharge. “Additionally any food from relatives for the patient must be pre-packed or canned food and dropped off at NHEOC for health workers to deliver,” he said in his address on radio.

Togamana further stress that all the staff who are involved in operations undergo daily risk assessment and adequate Infection Prevention and Control procedures have been put in place and they pose no risk to the community or family members.

“On the safety of front line staffs, all staffs at the NRH care areas are not allowed for cross overs to other care areas, and each workflow is now implementing a unidirectional work-flow. Accommodation for front line staffs on 2 weeks deployment is been progressed, where duty staffs will follow a strict pre-deployment deployment and post deployment instruction,” he said.

Robert Iroga is a reporter for the Solomon Business Magazine

By Barry Barford

By | Use own containers or LCL to beat the bond | No Comments

Swire Shipping, which practically has the monopoly on cargo shipping services to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, has announced it will, with immediate effect, impose a security deposit (bond) on all of its carrier-owned containers released to aid shippers. This is in response to a growing number of containers detained or abandoned by consignees who, to make things worse, often fail to pay detention charges as well.

It doesn’t matter if shippers such as DAISI are innocent bystanders, all aid shippers are caught in this blanket impost on the use of carrier-owned containers. Bonds are typically US$3,000 for a 20-foot container and US$5,500 for a 40-footer, and while they are fully refundable if the container is returned in good condition within the free period (14 days in the Solomon Islands), they represent a substantial additional outlay.

But there is a way around them. Consider purchasing your own shipper-owned container. A used container in good condition can be purchased for around $3,000 and once you’ve packed it with your equipment and shipped it to its destination, it simply remains with the consignee. You pay no bond, you don’t have to return the container to anyone and the freight rate is considerably less than you would pay for a carrier-owned container. Note, though, that containers for export shipping must have a valid CSC plate and certificate in accordance with the International Convention for Safe Containers.

In fact the consignee may choose to sell or use the empty containers, which have a significant inherent value.  These containers are often used for storage or, in remote parts of the South Pacific where construction resources are scarce, incorporated as components into construction projects as shown below.

331DEDC7-3368-4736-BF52-A204A41568AFTwo left-behind medical aid shipping containers in remote outpost being used as a foundation for building a family home.

An even better policy is to ship only what is really needed and use a less-than-container-load (LCL) service rather than pack, say, a laparoscopy stack into a container and then hunt around for other stuff to fill the container with. Goods such as this should be professionally packed, as in the photo below, designed for loading and unloading by forklift and suitable for shipment by sea or air.

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COVID-19 response: Four Maquet Servo 1 ventilators professionally packed for LCL shipment to East Timor. (Photo courtesy Pentagon Freight Services, Darwin.)

Barry Barford is DAISI’s Shipping & Logistics Officer and a shipper’s representative for a number of medical training organisations.

By Elvis Japhlet

By | Third DAISI container arrives Sopas | No Comments

Dr Elvis Japhlet takes selfie of the third DAISI shipping container this year to arrive at Sopas Hospital. 

 

On behalf of Sopas Hospital Staff, the Sakarawan community and EPHA, I would like to thank DAISI once again for the arrival of another container full of medical equipments and supplies today. Particularly the organisation and logistics required for such a feat by DAISI PNG Program Officer Mark Taffa, with money contributed by Owen Miller Foundation and Horten Medical.

 

We truly thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and look forward to putting this equipment to good use with future DAISI surgical trips once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted.

Dr Elvis Japhlet is the head surgeon at Sopas District Hospital in the remote highlands of PNG, and has been working together with DAISI to improve the delivery of surgical services to Enga Province. 

 

By Barry Barford

By | Aid shipments affected by COVID-19 | No Comments

Photo courtesy Freightwaves.

It’s sometimes hard to comprehend the speed at which COVID-19 has spread within Australia and around the world – it’s just four weeks since the virus spread was declared a pandemic. During that time two container loads of medical equipment and supplies shipped for DAISI to Sopas District Hospital have arrived in Papua New Guinea, but what options for shipping remain over the coming weeks?

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The extent to which freight movements have been affected depends on the mode of transport. Air freight, most of which is carried on passenger aircraft, is severely restricted owing to the suspension of most international flights by Qantas, Virgin and the airlines of neighbouring countries. Pacific Air Express continues to operate a dedicated freighter service from Brisbane to the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Express delivery companies such as TNT, DHL and Toll are offering restricted services subject to availability of flights.

Sea freight remains largely unaffected, although schedules have had to be adjusted to allow for the 14-day transit time between ports required by many countries. However, this situation may change as Pacific Island nations take action to protect their vulnerable communities. Already the Solomon Islands have imposed a 14-day quarantine period (before ships can enter port) on arrivals from any international port, unlike most other island nations which specify particular ports. Less-than-container-load (LCL) services are still operated by Kalgin Global Logistics and Vanguard Logistics from Sydney,Melbourne and Brisbane, but these too rely on the regular schedules of carriers like Swire Shipping.

Among the countries assisted by DAISI, only Papua New Guinea and Fiji have so far reported cases of COVID-19. As at midday on Thursday PNG had two cases and Fiji 15, with neither country reporting any deaths. However, it should be noted that elsewhere in the Pacific numbers are rising. French Polynesia, which in the last week of March had reported 18 cases, now has 51. And New Caledonia which at the same time had seven cases now has 18.

Resumption of normal freight services is unlikely to come soon and it could get worse before it gets better, but a gradual easing of restrictions could occur depending on the success or otherwise of each country’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus. By any measure the situation locally is nowhere near as dire as in Europe and the US, and for that we can be thankful.

Author: Barry Barford is DAISI’s Shipping & Logistics Officer and a member of the UK-based Humanitarian Logistics Association.

By Dr Elvis Japhlet

By | Second and third container arrive at Sopas | No Comments

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Sopas Hospital staff in front of the second shipping container delivered this year.

On behalf of Sopas District Hospital staff, community and Enga Provincial Health Authority (EPHA), I would like to thank Doctors Assisting In South-Pacific Islands (DAISI) and its executive for the first and second containers of medical equipments/supplies received this year with value more than one million kina.

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Our extreme gratitude is extended to Horten Medical/various hospitals in Australia/individuals/organisations/companies that have assisted and/or donated these medical equipments/supplies, and the Owen Miller Foundation largely responsible for paying for freight charges.

These donations will truly go a long way in saving the lives of many people in the highlands of PNG particularly Enga Province.

This is indeed a huge blessing.

Special thanks to so many individuals in particular Dr Gary McKay, Roshini McKay, Mark Taffa, Matt Rickard, Christophe Berney, Carina Chow, Adelene Ong, Jessica Lim, and all DAISI team members (cannot mention all their names as too many) who have visited Sopas District Hospital and all who have contributed in one way or the other towards these supplies.
God Bless you all!

 

Dr Elvis Japhlet is the head surgeon at Sopas District Hospital in the remote highlands of PNG, and has been working together with DAISI to improve the delivery of surgical services to Enga Province. 

By Michael Kabuni

By | COVID-19: the situation so far and challenges for PNG | No Comments

Papua New Guinea (PNG) became the first country in the South-Pacific to declare a state of emergency (SOE) in response to COVID-19.

 

Section 226 of PNG’s Constitution lists an “outbreak of pestilence or infectious disease” as grounds for declaring a national emergency. With more than 470,000 confirmed cases and over 20,000 deaths worldwide at the time of publication, the first recorded case in PNG on 13 March 2020 was sufficient reason for the National Executive Council (NEC) to declare an SOE. Among other things, the SOE gives the government the power to control the movement of people, vehicles, and goods; maintain and regulate transport; and regulate or prohibit use of public roads.

The emergency lockdown, which prevents the movement of people between provinces and puts restrictions on international flights, will only last for 14 days, subject to an extension of another 14 days. All schools and universities have shut for two weeks starting on 23 March. Non-essential services are shut, including most government departments, the courts and small businesses. The only exceptions are essential services such as banks, hospitals and shopping malls.

This blog gives a summary of the statistics, the situation in PNG leading up to the SOE and some of the challenges PNG faces.

What do the statistics look like?

According to the National Health Department’s Situation Report issued on 13 March – the latest publicly available data – 25,262 people entering PNG have been screened since January. Almost 3,000 have been identified as ‘persons of interest’, of which 2,230 are being actively monitored and 697 have completed the 14-day follow-up period.

A rapid response team comprised of medical professionals has investigated 16 people. Of those investigated, 14 samples were collected, with 10 testing negative for coronavirus while four samples are pending results. The other two did not meet the case definition for coronavirus and were not tested. Sixteen other individuals who were in direct contact with the first positive case are currently being quarantined.

First confirmed case

The SOE comes after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Bulolo District in Lae, Morobe Province. On 13 March, a 45-year-old Australian man employed by Harmony Gold Mine in Bulolo returned from a trip to Spain, one of the hardest hit European countries for coronavirus. He did not show COVID-19 symptoms of coughing, flu or fever at the Jacksons International Airport, where a basic test for temperature and a self-administered travel history and health form was all that was required to enter PNG. But 24 hours after transiting to his workplace in Bulolo, he began to show signs of flu and a slight fever and was immediately isolated.

Swabs were taken and sent to the Medical Research Institute in Goroka for testing. Three announcements followed. First the Health Minister Jelta Wong declared a probable case, and Prime Minister James Marape followed up by declaring the result as negative. Further tests were conducted and the prime minister confirmed the positiveresult for COVID-19. Police Minister Bryan Kramer then stated on Facebook that the inconsistent results were due to faulty test equipment, and that requests had been made for further testing to be conducted in Melbourne.

Challenges for PNG

While the government responded to the confirmed case by immediately declaring an SOE and 14-day lockdown, the varying test results and inability to detect the virus at Jacksons International Airport has led to widespread criticism on social media. It has also shone a light on the key challenges PNG faces in relation to the pandemic.

First, there is no way of knowing whether there are other positive cases of COVID-19 in PNG. When the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a global public health emergency on 30 January, PNG relied on screening done at airports in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia to determine whether passengers could enter PNG. The government is now calling for anyone who has entered PNG since 7 March to come forward for testing. This includes those who travelled with the man who tested positive in Bulolo, who had himself travelled from Singapore to Port Moresby before transiting to Lae. Even the Chief Medical Officer for the emergency committee set up under the SOE, Sam Yockopau, has suggested that COVID-19 may have entered PNG since December 2019 but only presented as the common cold or flu.

Second, is poor health infrastructure. The initial swabs were flown to the Medical Research Institute in Goroka, which has the test equipment. However, there are no isolation facilities for anyone testing positive. Initially an isolation ward was delegated at the Port Moresby General Hospital, but the Nurses Association protested, arguing the lives of more than 1,000 patients would be at risk if coronavirus was brought into the ward. Things may improve when 10,000 AusAID donated COVID-19 test kits, which are awaiting clearance, are released for distribution around the country. The UN is also setting up 30 temporary isolation wards.

Third, managing the PNG–Indonesian border. Indonesia has the highest death ratefrom coronavirus in the world at 9.3%. The 820 kilometre border with Indonesia has long been a challenge for understaffed and ill-equipped immigration officials and the PNG Defence Force. It will be a massive task to immediately lockdown the movement of traditional border crossers – people living within the vicinity of either side of the border.

Fourth, there is the challenge of funding. PNG has been struggling with high debt and low revenue over the past few years. The government has requested an aggregate K860 million (US$252 million) from the IMF, ADB and World Bank to fight COVID-19. The World Bank component (US$20 million or K68.2 million) will be spent on priorities identified by WHO and PNG’s National Department of Health in its National Emergency Response Plan. These priority areas include: modular isolation facilities for priority provinces; laboratory equipment and supplies to expand testing facilities, including financing for specimen transport; training and technical assistance for infection prevention and control, and rapid response in priority provinces; and risk communications. The funding from the ADB (US$50 million or K170.5 million) and IMF (US$182 million or K620.7 million) will be used to fund priorities identified in the National Emergency Response Plan.

Conclusion

The PNG government has not handled the initial case of coronavirus well, but subsequent quick action has been impressive. The declared SOE was the best decision for PNG given the dire state of the health system and lack of access to health facilities outside of urban centres. Most PNG provinces are isolated due to lack of road networks, so if the air and sea travel restrictions are effectively implemented, it will reduce the spread of the virus if other positive cases are detected. However, if it does spread, it will be very difficult to bring under control. The success of the SOE will also depend on how the funds are managed. After the last SOE declared in 2018 in Southern Highlands following the devastating earthquake there, K450 million(US$132 million) was allocated for disaster relief. Even then, there were complaints of lack of funding affecting disaster response. Diligent management and timely allocation of the funds is important for fighting COVID-19.

 

Author Michael Kabuni is a Teaching Fellow in Political Science at the University of Papua New Guinea.

by Dr Sepehr Lajevardi

By | All 2020 DAISI trips cancelled | No Comments

Unfortunately due to COVID-19 pandemic, and lock-down measures, it has been announced today to all DAISI members, and our partnering colleagues in the South Pacific, that all trips for 2020 have been cancelled.

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Prof Peter Hewett, the Solomon Islands Program Officer stated today ” It is most unfortunate, but I  think this was inevitable and the best decision”, an opinion echoed by Dr Carina Chow & Prof Christophe Berney both surgeons heavily involved in DAISI trips planned for Papua New Guinea later this year, with Dr Chow stating “I think this was a smart move in this crazy time”.

DAISI partner surgeons Dr Elvis Japhlet & Dr Kennedy James from Sopas Hospital and Alotau Hospital in Papua New Guinea, and Dr Rooney Jagilly from National Referral Hospital in the Solomon Islands today shared their agreement that such a move was “in the best interest of the public good”.

“Our heart goes out to these vulnerable nations, with no telling how they will cope with the pandemic, but at the moment our presence there would be more a hindrance than a help” advised Dr Danny Kozman, Co-Vice Chair for DAISI.  “Special thanks also goes to those unsung heroes in the South Pacific who are integral to the planning and organisation of DAISI trips.  Not to forget also those from the PNG and Solomon Island’s Medical Board including Ms Francina Ega and Ms Pou Haro responsible for processing the over 70 applications for temporary medical registration, which unfortunately will now not be used for 2020”.

All volunteers who require help with organising refunds for their flight and accommodation should contact staff@daisi.com.au  An update to all those involved will be issued towards the end of the year, to allow volunteers and patients who missed out this year to be included next year.

Author: Dr Sepehr Lajevardi  is a member of DAISI. 

By Tess Newton Cain and Dan McGarry

By | Coronavirus (Covid-19) in the South Pacific | No Comments

What has happened in the South-Pacific this week?

  • French Polynesia is one of the worst-affected South-Pacific states, with 18 confirmed cases. Half were discovered in people recently returned from France, only one has been hospitalised so far, the others remain in isolation.
  • New Caledonia now has seven confirmed cases. Radio Rhythme Bleu reports that a crowd of about 60 people attacked the territory’s only international airport to protest against continuing air service.
  • Papua New Guinea announced its first confirmed case on 20 March. The person was flown to Australia on Sunday and the government is attempting to track down everyone who may have come into contact with him.
  • Fiji has four confirmed cases, three of which are from the same family: a man, his mother and his one-year-old nephew. Both the 47-year-old woman and the baby appear to have contracted the virus from the 27-year-old man, who is a flight attendant. Fiji Times reports they’re stable. A fourth case was announced Tuesday. He was identified as a 28 year-old man who traveled from Sydney to Suva last Sunday.
  • The island of Aneityum in Vanuatu is in lockdown following reports that passengers or crew from the cruise ship Voyager of the Seas may have interacted with locals during an overnight visit on 11-12 March. On Tuesday the New South Wales government said seven people onboard the ship, which disembarked in Sydney on 18 March, were diagnosed with Covid-19.
  • Samoa reports that six test results for Covid-19 had come back negative. Seven further samples have been sent to New Zealand for laboratory testing, and results are pending for these cases.
  • Solomon Islands had three suspected cases, but all tested negative. Meanwhile the country’s central bank has revised its growth prediction for the economy to 2% in 2020 with the governor flagging the possibility of a recession
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Papua New Guinea’s prime minister James Marape announced a two-week state of emergency in the country beginning on Tuesday, after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed.

What are South-Pacific governments doing?

  • Papua New Guinea: A two-week state of emergency began on Tuesday, with measures including stopping all domestic flights; no movement from one province to another for a 14-day period except for approved cargo, medicine and security personnel; the bringing froward of school holidays to start on Monday 23 March; all non-essential workers to stay at home; and for all people who arrived in Papua New Guinea from 7 March to report in to a government hotline. The Australian government has provided an additionaln US$500,000 (PGK1.7m) to assist with preparations for dealing with the impacts of Covid-19.
  • Fiji: The city of Lautoka, where the first three cases were detected, is in lockdown with road blocks and patrols. The military has been called up to assist with perimeter security. The government is urgently seeking 82 passengers on three flights, whom they believe may have been in contact with the confirmed cases. The prime minister has urged people to avoid non-essential travel within Fiji.
  • Solomon Islands: the country announced a 90-day ban on arrivals of cruise ships and yachts on 20 March and has reduced international flights. All international travellers are required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.
  • Vanuatu: State-owned carrier Air Vanuatu has suspended all international flight operations. Inbound travel on other carriers is restricted to citizens, residents, diplomatic corps and humanitarian workers responding to the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Samoa: A state of emergency has been declared and borders are closed. Public gatherings are restricted to no more than five people. Failure to comply may lead to a fine of up to US$3,400 or a period of imprisonment of two years.
  • Tonga: A state of emergency has been declared. Borders are now closed. Nightclubs and bars will be closed from 25 March and gatherings of more than 20 are prohibited.

Authors: Tess Newton Cain is a Pacific analyst and writer for The Guardian. Dan McGarry
Dan McGarry is the media director of Vanuatu Daily Post and Buzz FM 96 in Port Vila, Vanuatu

 

by Christophe Berney

By | DAISI Charity Ball postoned due to coronavirus | No Comments

DAISI made the difficult decision today to postpone the planned Winter Solstice Charity Ball scheduled to occur at Novotel Manly Pacific on 20th June 2020.

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This follows the World Health Organisation’s upgrading yesterday of coronavirus as a pandemic, with Director-General Tedros Adhanom, urging all nations to “take all necessary measures to slow further spread and to protect health systems from becoming overwhelmed with patients seriously ill with coronavirus (COVID-19)”

There is also mounting pressure from various medical fraternities in Australia to ban large public gatherings until the coronavirus is under control. Today Federal Labor MP Mike Freelander, who has also worked as a doctor for 40 years is quoted by ABC reporter Stephanie Dalzell as stating “I don’t believe people should be attending large gatherings because of the risk of spread,” Dr Freelander said “If we don’t slow down the onset of the coronavirus I’m very concerned with the onset of winter and the influenza season, our systems are going to be completely overwhelmed.” This was echoed by many medical & surgical societies, including General Surgeons Australia, and The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, who have put on hold all major public gatherings.

At this stage the DAISI Charity Ball will probably remain at the Novotel Manly Pacific, but a specific date has not been established. We really need to see how long this pandemic lasts for.  Ideally a Charity Ball end of 2020 if not early 2021 will occur.  DAISI is grateful to Novotel Manly Pacific which has waived the usual cancellation fee in this situation. “It is a wonderful thing when corporate organisations such as Novotel behave in such a responsible manner”, “normally cancelling an event like this would cop a huge cancellation fee” says Charity Ball organiser and previous DAISI Chair Dr Sepehr Lajevardi.

Originally a “Winter Solstice” fancy dress theme,  it is unclear at this stage the theme for the future charity ball.

Once a date is decided, the event will be promoted, and tickets will become available for purchase online.  All money raised will go towards supplying surgical equipment for planned laparoscopic and endoscopic training in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

 

Author Prof Christophe Berney is the Co Deputy Chair of DAISI and part of the organising committee for the annual DAISI Charity Ball.  Prof Berney is Conjoint Professor with the University of NSW with expertise in colorectal, upper GI, thyroid and hernia surgery and regularly volunteers with DAISI to the Solomon Islands & PNG.

By Nili Hali

By | Coronavirus concerns result in cancelling of volunteer trip to Papua New Guinea. | No Comments

DAISI trips scheduled for March and April to the remote Highlands of Papua New Guinea have been cancelled today due to coronavirus concerns.

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“It was not a decision made lightly, with ultimately safety concerns taking priority” says Dr Carina Chow, DAISI member and colorectal surgeon from Brisbane in charge of the planned 6 member volunteer team.

Currently Papua New Guinea has no reported cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19), with more than 100 cases now diagnosed in Australia, mostly from Sydney.  “It is more likely that we will infect those in Papua New Guinea than the other way around” says DAISI team leader Dr Carina Chow, who ultimately made the decision today to cancel the trip after safety concerns and after considering the interests of all involved.

The team of six volunteers from Brisbane (some from Mater Hospital where some of Brisbane’s first coronavirus cases were reported last week) was to include two surgeons, one anaesthetist, and three nurses.

“I feel for all those involved in the planning of these trips and specially those patients in PNG who will miss out on much needed surgery as a result, but ultimately it is a decision between cancelling elective surgery versus risking bringing coronavirus to some of the most remote, vulnerable and medically-ill equipped regions in the Highlands of PNG.”

At this stage it is hoped that the trip will be postponed to later in the year rather than cancelled completely.

“We are watching the situation closely” says DAISI Chairman a/Prof Matt Rickard, who himself is scheduled to volunteer in Papua New Guinea in May later this year emphasising “at this stage the May trip is going ahead, but a final decision will be made one month before the planned trip’s departure depending on the current status of the coronavirus.”

Author Nili Hali is a DAISI member, and DAISI’s advisor in all legal matters. Nili is a barrister for Chalfont Chambers, and prior to this served as a lawyer for the United Nations in The Hague. Nili has a keen interest in humanitarian issues.