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.