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Australia and New Zealand – plus other key donors – need to urgently step up and provide assistance to Papuan New Guinea as a covid surge continues to grow, says the human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

Both Australia and New Zealand “continue to fail to support calls by around 100 countries”,  mainly in the global south for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights that would enable increased production, affordability and accessibility of vaccines, Amnesty has declared in a statement.

Responding to reports that Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape has declared a critical “red stage” in the country due to a current surge in covid-19 cases, Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said: “Papua New Guinea’s health crisis has now reached the level we feared it would reach a year ago with a surge in cases.

“A combination of an ailing health system and inadequate living conditions has created a perfect storm for covid-19 to thrive in the country’s overcrowded informal settlements.”

Schuetze said Amnesty International had received reports of inadequate amounts of personal protective equipment for health workers, and that some hospitals were full or threatening to be closed to new admissions.

“Misinformation within the community and online about the illness is also rife, with some suggesting [it] is a government conspiracy theory. This has also been fuelled by the government at times publishing inaccurate information on the number of confirmed cases.

“There is an absence of an effective public information campaign by the government to dispel the misinformation.”

Pledges of assistance
While Australia and New Zealand had made pledges of assistance to Papua New Guinea in response to the pandemic, they were “woefully inadequate”.

Australia had sent a team of medical experts tom PNG this week and had pledged monetary support, but this would not provide immediate relief.

“Basic health infrastructure is urgently needed in Papua New Guinea to help immediately on the diagnostic and treatment level, as well as for the distribution of vaccines once they are approved by the national authorities.”

Schuetze said there was little prospect of vaccines coming this month in the context of a deeply unequal global rollout.

The consequences of this meant that many poorer countries such as PNG would continue to be at the back of the queue for limited supplies of vaccines.

Background
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Queensland government, between 30 and 50 percent of test results in Papua New Guinea have been returning a positive result in early March 2021.

As of 16 March 2021, the government had reported 26 confirmed deaths and 2269 confirmed cases. The WHO has noted that severe undertesting means these numbers were likely to be significantly underestimated/under reported and that at least two provinces had widespread community transmission.

Papua New Guinea is part of the United Nations COVAX scheme, which aims to fairly and equitably deliver vaccines to all countries.

However, COVAX has to date not been resourced enough to ensure poorer countries are getting access to vaccines. The scheme is being severely undermined by wealthy countries buying up more vaccines than they need, significantly impacting on the ability to secure vaccines for other nations.

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