What are the lessons? Seeing the COVID-19 crisis through a PNG lens


So it’s a global pandemic with 15,000+ dead already, 350,000 infected and nearly 105,000 recovered.

It was a national health worry. But within days, it became a national emergency. The Prime Minister taking advice from the National Security Council, a state of emergency declared and Police Commissioner, David Manning appointed SOE controller.

For the first time in Papua New Guinea’s history, all the politicians and all the top bureaucrats are in the country. None of them want to be overseas. Even the crooks who stole from Papua New Guinea’s health system and made millions from the bribes want to be here in a country which is largely COVID-19 free (at least for now).

The irony of it all just gives you warm fuzzy feelings. What a beautiful example of poetic justice?

Australia, Singapore, China and the rest of the world are the least attractive places for anyone right now.

Every public official who thumbed their noses at PNG’s health system and went overseas for medical treatment, now expects our underpaid doctors and nurses to build facilities that will be COVID-19 ready in weeks.

Big ask.

Oops! Why didn’t we invest in the health system and build it up for our people? Maybe, just maybe, one day we might need to use it. That day has come. A bit early, I must say.

Here is another piece of irony for you. The safest places in PNG right now are the villages where up to 70 percent of health facilities are closed because of lack of funding and lack of medicines.

Hundreds of villagers have been in ‘self-isolation’ for decades. They don’t have to maintain ‘social distancing.’

A lead team member in Morobe’s COVID-19 response team, said on Saturday, “the safest place right now is in the villages. They can easily self-isolate.” I didn’t say that, he did.

While there are reports of urban dwellers, panic buying food items. Food security in the villages remains constant. The Western Highlanders will be complaining about having too much kaukau, potato, broccoli and cabbages because interprovincial travel has been drastically reduced and the Lae Market is closed.

I’d rather complain about having too much healthy food than about too many deaths from COVID-19.

The Papua New Guinea Defence force has been called on to provide security with the police. They have a funding shortage, planes that are grounded, facilities that have been screaming for government attention for decades.

They’ve been put on alert to be battle ready against COVID-19. Big ask. But I don’t doubt their abilities.

But let’s buy them the equipment, uniforms, vehicles and training. With our money. Let’s make them a force to be reckoned with. Give them the planes and the choppers so they can support us with pride.

Let’s not wait for a global crisis to do that.

We face an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19. If there was any time in history to invest in agriculture (and I don’t mean Oil Palm), this is the time. This is the time to plant for the next 6-12 months to increase food security.

But at the same time, we should be building systems for the future when the rest of the world collapses around us.

11 comments on “What are the lessons? Seeing the COVID-19 crisis through a PNG lens

  1. Pingback: What are the lessons with Covid-19? Seeing the ironies through a PNG lens – Radio Free

  2. Just had to laugh aloud for this one. Scot, I just hope our big pollies (and ex-pollies) at Waigani will read this piece.

    Keep safe bro.


  3. Well said Scott, well said


  4. Harrison

    Well said Scott!


  5. Lulu Ted

    Bulls eye!


  6. Zephaniah Z Omae



  7. Maran Nateleo

    Scott, very well articulated and said. All the big talk and declaration of SOE and large grand standing. A big joke, an under resourced govt joking to the World about its capacities and capabilities to contain. The northern international border of Sandaun Province and Western Province are wide open for the virus to spread easily. Is all big talk for the “Republic of Port Moresby” and let the Independent State of PNG where the major of the people have always been caring for themselves in any situation under the watchfull eye their God. God bless and care for the Independent State of PNG.


  8. Pingback: Papua New Guinea nurses strike over lack of protection against COVID-19 · Global Voices – NewsForTime

  9. Pingback: Papua New Guinea nurses strike over lack of protection against COVID-19 | alltopstf

  10. Dr. R. Kaul

    Brilliant and so very true.

    I am someone who worked as a Public Health specialist with the National Department of Health.

    We have the expertise to run health services effectively. But we dont do it right. Now is the time to reflect.


  11. Pingback: Communication, Privilege and the Ironies of Isolation: From Melbourne To Papua New Guinea – Medical Anthropology at UCL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: