The latest meeting of the Western Highlands Provincial COVID-19 Co-ordination Committee, held at the Mt Hagen Hospital Board Room on 19th May, discussed among others some key issues relating to COVID-19 preparations in the Western Highlands.
The Committee expressed concern that it had planned to carry out many projects to prevent and contain the spread of the virus in the province but could not implement all of them due to lack of funding.
It said under its business plan worth about K14 million it had planned to carry out continuous awareness in all the districts of the province, buy personal protective equipment (PPEs), buy drugs and medical equipment, build quarantine and isolation units and a cough clinic, put up tents to test patients etc. but could not implement all of them because the plan had not been fully funded.
Schools need funds to set up hand washing basins and buy PPEs, Mt Hagen Market needs to be upgraded including having its toilets and fencing fixed, waste disposal managed well and water connected so that it is COVID-19 compliant before it can be re-opened but all this cannot be done.
The Western Highlands Provincial Health Authority is fortunate to have had the support of partners such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Tininga Group of Companies who have helped to fund the setting up of the isolation unit and the quarantine centres respectively.
The WHPHA had only received a total of over K400,000 – K200,000 from the National Department of Health through the Health Service Improvement Program, K200,000 from the WH Provincial Government, K20,000 from the Member for Tambul/Nebilyer and K15,000 from an NGO, Lesfordlati Health Promoting Foundation Inc. and this has all been spent with more activities yet to be carried out.
The Members of Parliament from the Western Highlands including Governor, Rt Hon. Paias Wingti have made a total commitment of K1.5 million but four weeks after these commitments were made this money has still not hit the COVID-19 Provincial Trust Account.
Last week’s meeting was chaired by Mt Hagen Hospital Manager, Jane Holden in the absence of the Chairman and Provincial Administrator, Mr Joseph Neng who was continuing to follow up with the MPs and the District Development Authorities on their commitments.
The Committee unanimously agreed that there were many activities that needed to be carried out under its business plan but funding was a problem and the minutes of the meeting be posted on social media, especially Facebook and WH Development Forum so that the wider community could read it and may be help.
The Committee also expressed concern that the National Government had made available K600 million to carry out the State of Emergency and to make preparations for the onslaught of COVID-19 but nothing has been allocated to the WHP or the WHPHA in particular to conduct awareness and complete preparations to contain the virus.
The 2nd quarantine centre at Mt Hagen Hospital, built with a tent donated by Tininga is now ready for beds to be put in. Showers for both male and female patients will also be built.
The isolation unit is also ready and rosters for clinicians to work in it are now being finalised as well as clinicians’ accommodation which is being prepared on the hospital campus.
Testing at the main gate of the hospital is also being increased not only for COVID-19 patients with a history but also for others with symptoms of the virus. Anyone with a temperature of 37 degrees or more with pneumonia will also be tested. Have done about 25 tests so far and sent them to CPHL (Central Public Health Laboratory) in Port Moresby starting this Monday instead of to IMR (Institute of Medical Research) in Goroka as was done previously.
The cough clinic is now completed and a tent donated by UNICEF has been erected to do triaging while an open shelter is being built near the Red Cross store for patients to sit while waiting for their test results.
People are disregarding SOE (State of Emergency) orders and are now going back to normal business such as not social distancing and crowding at markets and stores. Somehow they are still bringing in betel nut and selling them. Four people brought in 14 bags of betel nut on Monday and were caught by police and charged K1000 each. They all paid the fine but the betel nut bags worth about K42,000 were poured into the Wahgi river.
There is mounting pressure from the public on the management of Mt Hagen Market to have it re-opened immediately but the management is refusing to do so because of certain maintenance issues that must be addressed first to make it COVID-19 compliant.
A sub-committee responsible for the upgrading and maintenance of the market met on Monday and decided that certain jobs must be completed first before it can be re-opened. Water has been connected to the market and all the male and female toilets including the hand basins, sewerage pipes and drainage systems are being worked on now and will be completed by next week.
Some major jobs that need to be done include widening of the three main gates, creation of wholesale marketing area inside the market, finding a place to dump organic waste, setting up hand washing basins at the main gates, painting lines inside market for social distancing, setting up police post and health clinic inside market and possibly engaging new management and security firm to look after market etc.
There is also concern about shops outside the market and beside the main bus stop cooking lamb flaps as the grease/oil is poured into the market drainage system which blocks it and causes a health problem. These shops need to stop cooking such foods.
The meeting agreed that as soon as the most urgent jobs that need to be done including repairing the toilets, sewerage, hand basins, drainage, waste management etc. are completed, the market should be re-opened and the rest of the jobs could be done later.
The meeting finally agreed that because there was no support or input from politicians from the Western Highlands unlike other neighbouring provinces, the Governor, Rt Hon. Paias Wingti be invited to the next meeting onTuesday, 26th May so that he could gain first-hand information on COVID-19 preparations in the province.