Go Pinis

Go Pinis

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


We have a problem over here.

According to government figures, in Papua New Guinea health facilities can expect to be short of essential medical supplies for five months every year. That's right, five months.

I've recently completed a survey of health centres and aid posts in Bougainville for a health conference we are planning in May. Aid posts and health centres offer the majority of health services in Bougainville as there is only one hospital with five doctors, located on Buka Island (which equates to one doctor per 35,000 Bougainvilleans, but that's another problem). Not surprisingly, 77% of the staff interviewed reported that they often lack the supplies they need to do their job.

We also asked them what supplies they most commonly ran out of. I have compared responses to the most common illnesses reported by patients, and have found that the supplies they most commonly run out of correlate with the most common illnesses patients seek treatment for. What's disturbing is that the most common illnesses are malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea – also the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Bougainville.

But wait, there's more.

The supply of medicines is managed centrally by the Department of Health in Port Moresby. The Division of Health in Bougainville is tasked with sending orders and distributing supplies. However, since the problem of supply shortages is so serious, the Bougainville Government has set aside additional funding to address the shortfall in medical supplies. In 2007 the appropriation equalled 500,000 kina, roughly ASD250,000. Not much, certainly not enough, but that was 2007. I've just established that over 2007 to 2009 that appropriation has decreased from K500,000 to K40,000. That's a decrease of 92%.

Let me emphasise that point: despite knowing that Bougainville, and Papua New Guinea more broadly, faces serious shortages of medical supplies, the Bougainville government has decreased its budget for the purchase of medical supplies by 92%.

I got so angry when I learnt this that I felt sick.

Ok, time to change the tone. I am happy to say that there are solutions on the horizon. Firstly, sorting these issues out would be a bit of a slog without some good evidence to hand. My survey gives us that evidence. Secondly, we have had funding approved for a health conference in May, which will provide a forum to discuss the issue of drug shortages – the Minister of Health and the President will be in attendance, and I will make sure they hear about this. Thirdly, we have a Budget and Planning Advisor now, and I'm getting him involved on this so I can do a tag team hit for more impact. I'm pretty confident that we can turn this around, and that over the next few years we will see some changes. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Welcome Back

The following describes my first day back at work, Monday 23 February.

6:30am – woke up to the sound of the ocean, cool breeze and sunlight. Lay there for half an hour. Get up at 7am, make banana smoothies for me and the flatmates. Relax on deck for a bit. Go to work.

Monday morning – back to work and I’m walking in quick sand – apparently I’ve been delegated some work but no-one took minutes so we don’t know what that was, had to tell the head of the Bougainville AIDS Committee that there will be no funding from the Bougainville Government for the committee this year (still sorting that one out), shortly after that the power was cut as once again PNG Power has failed to import the right amount of diesel for the generators.

Try to call Health Division but they haven’t paid phone bill. This is actually good, as that means I have to get out of the office and take a boat trip (the Division is on an island overlooking much of Bougainville). Beautiful day, calm, clear water, chat to some friendly locals in the boat. Get to the Division and find out they have done everything I’d asked before I left. Very good news. Also find out that meeting to approve funding for Health Summits takes place end of week. More good news.

Afternoon – bump into friends all over town, everyone pleased to see me back because everyone noticed I was gone. This place is great. Good to catch up with everyone, great to see them again.

Malaria hysteria – find out that four ex-pats have come down with malaria, including Mel and Kim, my flatmates. It’s the wet season so not surprising. They are doing well though so that’s good.

Gossip – find out that there is a strike in the markets. Apparently a women from the Solos area (one hour north) got into a fight with a women from Ieta (two minutes up the road). A strike is on between market sellers from the two different areas, so not as much produce in the market (this turned into a big protest march in town at the end of the week, people showed up armed, roads were closed, much diplomatic alarm due to missing ex-pats, who were in fact away fishing for the day).

Rait Man – forgot how people love whitey’s over here. Lots of red toothed smiles and waves from strangers and calls of “Rait Man” (legend). I smile, wave back and shake hands, say cheers and ask how they are.

It’s good to be back.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Israel may face war crimes trials over Gaza

Yeah, I know, not related to Bougainville at all, but this article really got my attention. Would love to read the Red Cross reports when they come out.