Inside the Covid unit: crisis threatens to overwhelm PNG’s biggest hospital | Papua New Guinea

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The emergency department of the largest hospital in the capital of Papua New Guinea is hot, stuffy and full. People sit lined up outside the front counter, waiting to be seen.

It has been divided into two sections: the front continues to operate as a traditional emergency room, while the back is now a Covid-19 isolation ward, treating the most serious cases of the virus.

Inside the Covid-19 isolation ward, all 14 beds are full. Doctors and nurses wearing blue gowns and PPE move between the patients. Through their visors, their faces are drawn and tired.

Cases of the virus have skyrocketed in Papua New Guinea over the last month, bringing the country’s already stretched health system to its knees.

The country reported 351 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the the total to 4,109, an increase of more than 3,000 cases in just over a month. But there are concerns the true rate of transmission is far higher and masked by low testing rates.

Dr Duncan Sengiromo, the acting coordinator of the emergency department, says seven doctors, six nurses and three support staff from the emergency department have tested positive to Covid-19 this week and are in isolation.

“We work in shifts, however, as more of our staff have tested positive and have to go into 10 days isolation, we are short-staffed.”

“We do the best we can, but we continue to struggle,” he says.

The short-staffed Covid isolation ward at Port Moresby general hospital
The Covid isolation ward at Port Moresby hospital is short-staffed after more than a dozen positive tests this week. Photograph: Rebecca Kuku/The Guardian

‘Part of me still thinks it’s a hoax’

There is huge scepticism about the reality of Covid-19 in Papua New Guinea, where misinformation about the virus has been widespread.

“I used to think Covid-19 wasn’t real until two days ago,” says one 55-year-old patient in the emergency ward, who did not want to give his name for fear of being ridiculed.

“I wasn’t sick, I don’t even have asthma, but I had flu and I steamed myself as usual whenever I get the flu. But it didn’t stop, soon I started having trouble to breathe, it got worse and my family rushed me here where I tested positive.”

The man has been given oxygen to help him breathe, but he struggled to sit up in his hospital bed and had to be assisted by his daughter. Patients are allowed one caregiver in the ward, though there are concerns for them, as they are masked but not in full protective equipment.

“I’m still in shock, part of me still thinks it’s a hoax, but part of me is starting to believe Covid-19 is real,” he says.

The man is interrupted as a woman calls out from across the ward that her husband is struggling to breathe. The chief of the emergency department, Dr Sam Yockopua, calls nurses to increase the oxygen supply.

Afterwards, Yockopua says having access to oxygen is one of the main concerns with treating Covid-19 patients.

“This is one of the reasons why we need a bigger isolation facility, as we are totally against home isolation. Covid-19 patients need to have an oxygen supply on standby and readily accessible.

“We need to bring them out from their homes and into isolation areas so that they can have access to oxygen supply as well,” he says.

Yockopua’s message to people is Covid-19 is real and there are people getting infected daily.

“People are dying from it, people are scared of it, we see patients coming in every day, we attend to them every day and please, please, our appeal to the public is to please adhere to the measures put in place.

“The beds are full, as you can see, we have manpower shortage, we are struggling, so listen to the authorities because Covid-19 is very real,” he says.

A field hospital is being set up at the Taurama aquatic centre to take some of the load off Port Moresby general hospital
A field hospital being set up at the Taurama aquatic centre to take some of the load off Port Moresby general hospital. Photograph: Rebecca Kuku/The Guardian

The isolation centre at Port Moresby general hospital and the 45-bed isolation Rita Flynn isolation unit are full, but there are hopes that a field hospital, to be set up at the Taurama aquatic centre, will help to take some of the load.

The Taurama field hospital, which is funded by Australia and other partners, will have about 300 beds and will be managed by the local hospital authority and St John Ambulance.

The St John Ambulance CEO, Matt Cannon, says they are doing some last checks on the site and will start by admitting about 30 to 40 patients by Friday.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Inside the Covid unit: crisis threatens to overwhelm PNG’s biggest hospital | Papua New Guinea

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