WHO has raised concerns about the potential for disease earthquakes in Papua New Guinea following a large earthquake in February 2018 and a number of subsequent aftershocks.
The initial earthquake struck on 26th February with a magnitude of 7.5. This, combined with hundreds of aftershocks, has resulted in the severe damage of approximately 65% of healthcare facilities in the provinces of Hela and Southern Highland.
Currently, 13% of health facilities remain closed and those that have reopened are only able to provide emergency services.
The government of Papua New Guinea estimates that 270,000 are in need of urgent assistance, 125,000 of which are children and 55,000 are under five.
Dr Luo Dapeng, WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea commented:
”At this stage of the emergency response, it is critical to restore the delivery of basic health services to the affected communities, such as the immunization of children”
“We will continue to work closely with the NDOH, Provincial Health Authorities and partners to respond to these risks and to prevent a secondary emergency arising from disease outbreaks”.
WHO is concerned that water contamination from landslides, poor sanitation and hygiene issues will lead to an outbreak of diarrhoea.
The affected area also has low immunization coverage with 70-80% of children in the severely-affected provinces not protected.
Furthermore, in the Hela and Southern Higlands provinces just 18.2% and 27.6% are immunized against measles respectively.
Karen Allen, UNICEF Representative for Papua New Guinea added:
“We are really worried because a majority of children in the affected areas already have low immunity”
“Now, as they are living in the crowded shelters with poor-hygiene conditions, inadequate clean water and little knowledge to protect themselves, children are becoming much more vulnerable to diseases, including vaccine-preventable and water-borne diseases.”
UNICEF and WHO are providing support to the Government to immunize under 5’s against measles and rubella.
So far UNICEF has distributed vaccines to 31,700 children against measles and rubella, pertussis, pneumonia and tuberculosis.
WHO has also sent nine mobile teams to vaccinate children in remote settlements.
In addition, the agencies are sending basic medical supplies and essential medicine for maternal and new born health.
A key concern of the agencies is water and sanitation. Both have distributed hygiene kits and water purification tablets among affected communities and emergency latrines and water collection tanks continue to be constructed.
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Image credit: THOMAS NYBO/UNICEF/HANDOUT/EPA