Before we get to the story about the politican, let’s take a look back at how it began…
Two weeks ago, a senior doctor who works at Lae’s Angau Hospital added to the long list of health professionals who are pointing out the obvious: There is a severe medicine shortage throughout the country.
Dr. Lincoln Menda has served in the public health system for 36 years is the most senior health professional to speak out about the medicine shortages. His primary job is to visit clinics all over the Morobe Province to treat and refer people with serious medical problems to the main hospitals.
He has not been able to do his job well.
We need drugs. We are facilitators of the end users of the drugs. They are our clients. We are now prescribing drugs for all our clients to buy it from the private sector,” he said.
“We are passing the buck when the government is telling us that that drugs and everything are supposed to be free. Treatment in hospitals is supposed to be free.
Dr. Menda was at the Milfordhaven clinic, one of seven urban clinics facing a dire shortage of medicines and other supplies. In the clinic’s dispensary, the shelves were void of much needed basic supplies. On a list provided by the officer in charge, he noted antibiotic, painkillers and antimalarial drugs are in short supply.
“Everywhere I go, I carry folders of prescription forms. I prescribe everything for Panadol to amoxicillin to other major medical drugs that need a doctor’s prescription. Everything from Panadol, asprin, malaria drugs are non-existent currently.”
Dr. Menda wasn’t the only one to speak out. Nurses who are at the front line of health service delivery also spoke out about the shortages.
The situation also took a personal toll on health staff. Unable to handle patient numbers and unable to adequately treat those in need, one senior nurse broke down in the middle on the interview.
Over the course of the month, the health department and the health minister didn’t respond adequately to the concerns. Partly because those at the top of the health pyramid including the minister weren’t well informed of the situation on the ground.
It took a week of intense media attention, before the health minister finally responded with a statement outside of parliament.The Minister’s statements came only after a shipment of drugs were sent to Lae a day before we took photographs of medicines stocked at the Area Medical store in Lae. We was not allowed to film inside the warehouse.
The Area store manager told us to get permission from the Health Secretary before any information could be released. They also wouldn’t tell us when the shipment of medicines arrived.
As nurses and medical professionals continued to speak out and while much of the focus was on Lae, it was increasingly becoming obvious that the shortages were affecting nearly everyone…
…including members of parliament…
Ijivitari MP, Richard Masere, who was struck down by malaria couldn’t find antimalarial drugs at the district and provincial hospitals. He raised the issue in parliament.
So Puka Temu responded again this time in Parliament….
The lengthy explanation also highlighted the fact that they wouldn’t have known about if the media had not highlighted it…. And that poor internal communications, a shortage of manpower and theft were a contributing factors to the medicine shortages.
Any serious journalist in Papua New Guinea seeking an answer from the Health department knows, that it is quite difficult getting a response from the Health Secretary. Also, Maybe… just maybe… It would help the public health system a lot if more members of parliament actually used the public health system.
Then, they would know how their voters felt.