10 July 2013
Guest Contributor

New isolation ward boosts the fight against TB in PNG

Dr Rendi Moke, Provincial TB Physician Western Province and Nurse Konia Sampson, TB Nurse Aid, in the new TB  PNG Minister for Health and HIV, the Hon Michael Malabag, and Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Senator Matt Thistlethwaite cut a ribbon at the entrance of the TB and isolation ward to officially open the building.

Dr Rendi Moke, Provincial TB Physician Western Province and Nurse Konia Sampson, TB Nurse Aid, in the new TB ward. (Left photo)
Photo: Andrew Gavin / AusAID

PNG Minister for Health and HIV, the Hon Michael Malabag, and Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs Senator Matt Thistlethwaite cut a ribbon at the entrance of the TB and isolation ward to officially open the building. (Right photo)
Photo: Kyle Taylor / AusAID

The effort to stop tuberculosis (TB) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) received a boost this week with the opening of new specialist treatment facilities at Daru General Hospital in PNG’s Western Province. Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Senator the Hon Matt Thistlethwaite, opened the 22-bed TB and isolation ward at Daru General Hospital with PNG Minister for Health and HIV, the Hon Michael Malabag MP.

 The ward comprises six isolation rooms that meet international standards for isolation of airborne infections in addition to a 16 bed ward for recovering TB patients. The facilities will help improve infection control and reduce the risk of transmission of TB, particularly drug-resistant strains, from patient to patient.

The new ward is part of Australia’s $32.9 million commitment to support the Government of PNG’s comprehensive approach to detection and treatment of TB in Western Province.

Senator Thistlethwaite said the best way to stop drug-resistant TB is early diagnosis paired with Directly Observed Treatment, Short-course (DOTS) provided for patients in their own communities. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) DOTS protocol uses health volunteers to visit TB patients daily to ensure they take their medication and complete their full course of treatment.

‘This is the approach Australia supports and it is saving lives,’ Senator Thistlethwaite said. ‘Data from Daru Hospital shows that mortality rates from multi-drug resistant TB fell from 25 per cent to 5 per cent between 2011 and 2012.’

Outreach services

In addition to this new ward, Australia’s support in Western Province also includes providing TB specialist staff, training for community health workers and volunteer treatment supporters, medical equipment, medicines, a sea ambulance, and funding for laboratory diagnosis support in Queensland. Australia’s approach has been endorsed by public health and TB experts, including the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer and the WHO, the global authority on controlling TB.

Senator Thistlethwaite also inspected the sea ambulance the Medics Queen which Western Province health workers use to deliver outreach services – including for people undergoing TB treatment to Middle and South Fly.

The Medics Queen recently returned to service after undergoing maintenance. In April, Australia provided two banana boats to the Western Province Health Office for outreach services while the Medics Queen was serviced. Australia has also provided the Western Province Health Office with a semi-inflatable boat that can access hard-to-reach communities.

Tackling tuberculosis on a national scale 

At the TB ward opening. Senator Thistlethwaite noted the problem is not just confined to PNG’s Western Province. ‘Across PNG around 14,000 new cases of TB are diagnosed every year, making it one of the country’s most significant health and development issues.

‘That being said, we know that TB is preventable and treatable and that with the right commitment and support, we can make a difference.’

Apart from its work in Western Province, Australia funds a specialist TB Medical Officer in the WHO’s Port Moresby office whose role includes supervising and training health workers to improve TB management throughout PNG.

Broader Australian assistance for PNG’s health system includes health worker training, medical supply distribution and technical support. This assistance also contributes to PNG’s national response to diseases like TB. In addition, Australia supports the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which is investing US$28.2 million (2007-2014) in supporting the Government of PNG manage TB nationally.

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