Meeting immediate needs and reaching remote communities for COVID-19 prevention and response

In Papua New Guinea, the spread of COVID-19 is rapidly spiralling. Efforts to contain the pandemic are either neglected or devalued, while health and prison systems are under enormous pressure to meet immediate needs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) together with PNG Red Cross Society (PNGRCS) is working in PNG to support health infrastructure, places of detention and ensure key COVID-19 prevention and response measures reach even the most remote of communities.

Support in places of detention

The ICRC continues to support detention authorities in implementing COVID-19 prevention and containment measures in prisons. It closely monitors living conditions and the treatment of detainees across 15 places of detention, including correctional services and police lockups in PNG.

As part of its COVID-19 response, the ICRC delivers material assistance to around half of the detained population in PNG on a monthly basis, including personal hygiene kits, cleaning and disinfectant material, personal protective equipment, hand washing stations and more.

In Bougainville, additional COVID-19 assistance includes providing hygiene and disinfectant material to police lockups and prisons. The ICRC conducts awareness and dissemination sessions on COVID-19 prevention to prison staff and detainees. The ICRC has supported detention facilities with rehabilitation and renovation of water systems.

Upon the request of authorities, the ICRC supported the creation of emergency contingency plans, operational guidelines and monitoring tools in response to COVID-19. It conducted training for prison health workers to improve access to health care in detention. The ICRC facilitated high-level technical meetings with prison and health authorities to establish a multi-agency coordinated mechanism and reinforce infection prevention and control (IPC) strategies at the national level.

Support to health authorities and personnel

The ICRC is in continuous contact with provincial hospitals and five rural health centres in the Highlands to provide support and assess their immediate needs. PPE has been provided to health staff to ensure they can work safely. Further provisions are planned to ensure that no gaps occur. Coordination is underway with Mt Hagen and Mendi provincial hospitals, both implementing triage and isolation capacities with ICRC support from last year.

In addition to regular primary health care programs, rural health facilities receive support on raising prevention awareness with incoming patients, hygiene, and the management of patients with suspected cases of COVID-19. Building on last year's efforts, group support sessions are being organized to help frontline health staff manage their stress and keep mentally fit while responding to the pandemic.

Family support centres, and assisting victims of violence programs – including sexual violence, which is highly prevalent in PNG – continue to benefit from ICRC support. Discussions are ongoing to extend support to other hospitals and health centres.

ICRC engineers supported improvements for COVID-19 response facilities at numerous provincial hospitals. At Mt Hagen Hospital, a 12-bed isolation ward was set up along with three canopy structures used as screening facilities. Similar support of screening areas was also done at the Mendi Provincial Hospital.

ICRC will continue to support Mendi Provincial Hospital with technical guidance in helping set up an isolation tent. Support to improve access to water was also provided to rural health centres, notably through the installation of washing stations

Coordination with PNG Red Cross Society

Support to PNGRCS volunteer public awareness campaigns is underway, including refresher trainings on COVID-19 awareness in the Highlands and Bougainville, as well as messaging on mental health.

Discussions with Movement partners concerning the need for prevention awareness campaigns are ongoing, alongside dialogue with Buka hospital in Bougainville on immediate needs. Preparations for PNGRCS support activities ahead of the vaccination campaign later this year together with IFRC and Australian Red Cross are also ongoing.

The ICRC helps people around the world affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence, doing everything it can to protect their dignity and relieve their suffering, often with its Red Cross and Red Crescent partners. The organization also seeks to prevent hardship by promoting and strengthening humanitarian law and championing universal humanitarian principles.