In parts of the world where COVID-19 has not yet spread widely, governments have a critical opportunity to step up prevention and response capacities. Papua New Guinea (PNG) is taking the threat of the pandemic seriously with an all-of-government approach in strengthening the country's health system and engaging communities to keep them safe from the virus.
"We know that about 15% of COVID-19 cases will need some form of hospital care. If 10,000 people get sick -- that's about 1,500 people needing care. This can easily overwhelm our health system," said Dr Gary Nou who leads the frontline Government response for COVID-19 in the National Capital District.
WHO Representative to PNG, Dr Luo Dapeng, says the priority at present is to increase testing for early detection and quick response; strengthen health care delivery; and identify and protect vulnerable populations. WHO continues to support the Government to prepare the health system for the worst-case scenario, as well as to build upon the country's emergency response mechanism.
From the start of the pandemic, WHO and the PNG Government have taken every opportunity to work more closely together to better respond to COVID-19 and improve the country's emergency preparedness and response. This includes leveraging the work already taking place under the UHC Partnership, which is funded by the European Union, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Irish Aid, the Government of Japan, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the UK Department for International Development and Belgium.
Working with the Prime Minister, Treasury and Ministry of Finance to support a whole of government response to COVID-19, WHO helped to establish an inter-agency financing coordination mechanism around COVID-19 expenditure.
Flexible funding from the UHC Partnership is also enabling WHO to provide additional technical and strategic support that builds on its previous work to strengthen the health system. This includes primary health care, mental health, surveillance and legal reform, which are helping the country respond to COVID-19, maintain essential health services during times of emergency and build a stronger system for the future.
A new national health plan
COVID-19 continues to threaten health systems and societies across the world, but it also presents an opportunity for countries to have a clearer vision for the health of their populations; one that can stand strong in the face of emergencies. The lessons learned from COVID-19 will guide the Government of PNG in the development of its new national health plan for 2021-2030. It is a chance for the Government, communities and partners to build a stronger and more resilient health system for everyone, especially the most vulnerable.