PNG and Australia share a special relationship, reaffirmed by the signing of the PNG-Australian Comprehensive Strategic and Economic Partnership (CSEP) on 5 August 2020. We enter this Partnership at a time when COVID-19 is having a significant social and economic impact on PNG, the region and the world. Australia is assisting PNG to respond to the rise in COVID-19 cases since the country’s first case was recorded in March 2020.
We have reprioritised a large portion of our development assistance to support PNG to prevent, detect and respond to the virus, and underpin PNG’s economic resilience. A key pillar of our support has been the deployment of Australian medical and public health specialists, who are partnering with PNG health officials and frontline workers to strengthen its response to COVID-19 in Port Moresby and provincial areas.
Since February 2020, Australia has provided substantial COVID-19 support, including for medical supplies, direct funding to provinces to prepare and respond to COVID-19, public health strengthening and economic support. This is in addition to assistance provided by the Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police, including senior advisory support to PNG’s National Control Centre for COVID-19, and logistics assistance to PNG Defence Force’s surge support to COVID-19 response efforts.
Australia has strengthened PNG’s testing and surveillance capacity by providing over 20,000 sample collection kits, 15,000 rapid serology tests, and four new Polymerase Chain Reaction testing machines; co-funding of 15,000 GeneXpert cartridges that allow for quick testing; and testing of over 3,500 samples in Australia.
Australia has provided over two million pieces of personal protective equipment to protect frontline workers, in addition to vital COVID-19 training and mentoring for health care workers, including through the launch of a new internet-based program. We have provided $11 million in direct funding to provincial health authorities to prepare for and respond to COVID-19 and also provide significant technical expertise and logistical support to the National Department of Health and PNG’s COVID-19 National Control Centre, including in the areas of public health, infection control and policy.
We have also strengthened public health messaging and enhancing the resilience of communities through support to NGOs, churches and other partners including public information campaigns, enhancing access to water and sanitation activities, improving livelihoods initiatives and addressing gender-based violence.
We are also continuing support for PNG’s economic reform to improve the efficiency and resiliency of the PNG economy and improve the country’s growth prospects on the other side of COVID-19.
Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT)
In response to PNG’s call for Emergency Medical Teams on 23 July, Australia has deployed Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) to work alongside PNG health officials and frontline workers to support and strengthen the PNG-led response.
The Australian medical specialists include epidemiologists, emergency medicine specialists, anaesthetists, emergency nurse practitioners, medical laboratory scientists and logisticians.
The initial AUSMAT was deployed in August, with a second team deployed in September. The teams are establishing and embedding safe COVID-19 clinical practices in existing PNG health facilities, in addition to supplementary support for clinical care, and working with PNG health officials and frontline workers to strengthen systems and practices in COVID-19 referral facilities to support PNG to manage the outbreak.
Examples of assistance include improving staff and workplace safety for those providing care to COVID-19 patients, increasing the capacity of testing and treatment facilities, and enhancing the public health response.
AUSMAT will remain in PNG until October, and is working closely with the Government of PNG, the World Health Organization and Australia’s bilateral health program to ensure a smooth transition and sustainable response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the following months.
Australian medical specialists adhered to PNG quarantine requirements on arrival in Port Moresby, and will adhere to Australian quarantine regulations upon their return home.