Doctors in Papua New Guinea say the coronavirus crisis is only getting worse as some hospitals shut their doors to patients and others struggle without supplies as basic as gloves.

Health officials and doctors interviewed by RNZ Pacific have described a health system teetering on the brink of collapse and a country that has no real grasp of just how widespread the virus really is.

Officially, the country has recorded 10,915 cases of Covid-19 and 107 deaths, according to government figures released on Wednesday night.

David Mills, a doctor at a hospital in Enga province which covers a remote chunk of the country’s rugged Highland interior, said “those numbers just need to be ignored”.

“They’re not even a remote figure of what’s going on… It’s really moving about as fast as it could possibly move.

“It’s very hard for us to just guess the number of actual cases that are out there because the more mildly ill, they’re not even coming within cooee of us.”

Fewer than 90,000 tests have been carried out in a country of nine million people since the start of the pandemic according to government figures, and in many remote parts, testing capacity just isn’t there.

One senior health official in the Western Highlands city of Mt Hagen, who spoke to RNZ Pacific on condition of anonymity, said only a tiny proportion of the population had been tested, and only when the hospital had enough test cartridges.

“We really don’t have any real grasp on it,” the official said.

Figures supplied showed that in Western Highlands, with an estimated population of half-a-million, only 4760 had been tested as of Monday – 951 of those tests had come back positive.

“And as well we know that there are anecdotally an increase in community deaths,” they said.

“We don’t have a death register here. But we certainly know that there are more bodies coming up from Port Moresby of people who’ve died after a short flu-like illness.”

“People are saying, ‘in my village in the last two weeks six people have died’, I mean that’s just not the numbers that normally die.”

In the northern district of Madang, a senior health official who also asked to remain anonymous, described the situation there as horrible.

Officially, the region had 150 cases, and recorded its first death last week. The official said the numbers were almost certainly wrong.


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