O’Shea, who began working on ADI’s new program in West New Britain in January this year, returned to Australia in April due to COVID-19. This followed guidance from the Australian government which resulted in all expatriate staff and volunteer doctors leaving PNG, after three months of outreach health patrols delivering health services and training to rural health workers.
Prior to COVID-19, ADI doctors were present in all three of ADI’s operational areas - West New Britain, New Ireland and Western Province.
O’Shea, who previously worked in Vanuatu, Kiribati, and most recently the Solomon Islands on a wide range of clinical trials and health system strengthening projects, has continued providing remote support to local PNG staff since the start of the outbreak.
“Having the opportunity to be at the forefront of a new program with ADI in West New Britain was fantastic. Within the first three months we have built significant stakeholder relationships throughout the province. West New Britain is also a beautiful place to live and work,” he shared.
Since the start of the pandemic, ADI has been adapting its standard practices to maintain its objective of protecting health workers, ensuring continued access to health services and providing education campaigns and webinars.
ADI has ensured that local PNG staff and local health partners were provided with effective PPE equipment, medical resources and has continued to work with Provincial Health Authorities to support response efforts.
In response to COVID-19, the National Department of Health (NDOH) has developed a COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan of which ADI is contributing to seven of the ten plan priority areas. As of July 26th, PNG Department of Health and WHO have reported over 60 COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea, 49 of which are new cases which have emerged in the past 10 days. Most concerning is that many of these positive cases are health workers – jeopardising PNG’s already fragile health workforce.
Aside from direct risks from COVID-19, fears remain that other health services will suffer as a result of pandemic control measures.
Over 85 percent of PNG citizens reside in rural, hard-to-reach areas, and there is concern that standard health services, particularly maternal and child health, may be affected.
ADI feels that now is the right time to return to providing in-country support to local teams, which has led to the decision for O’Shea to return to PNG. ADI believes that this is the most relevant and effective way to support stakeholders within PNG through the COVID-19 period. O’Shea will also continue to build the West New Britain program.
ADI CEO, Klara Henderson, states: “Now is the right time to be returning staff to the field to support rural health programs.”
O’Shea, who returned to PNG on Friday 24th of July, says: “It will be great to return to West New Britain and rejoin the ADI team. It was quite an abrupt exit due to COVID-19, but to be back getting on with supporting our partners in delivering health is exciting.
“We have emergency obstetric training planned along with a Bali-Witu outreach health patrol within the first six weeks of my arrival - once I’ve served the 14 days quarantine in a Port Moresby hotel.”
ADI has thanked the Australian government, through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), the Old Dart Foundation, and the West New Britain Provincial Government, for their support in continuing to improve access to healthcare in PNG.
For more information on the work Australian Doctors International is doing in PNG, visit www.adi.org.au.