Emergency health team deployed to earthquake-affected provinces of PNG

WHO staff Roland Kuuzer with provincial health workers and with people from the affected communities in Mendi, Southern Highlands.

As aftershocks continue to rattle the Hela and Southern Highlands provinces of Papua New Guinea, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Department of Health (NDOH) are working together to send support to the worst-affected communities.

A devastating 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces on 26 February, triggering landslides that are reported to have wiped out villages, contaminated drinking water and disrupted rivers.

“We offer our deep-felt condolences to the families who have lost loved ones as a result of the earthquake. We are working closely with the National Department of Health to provide assistance where most needed,” said WHO Country Representative, Dr Luo Dapeng.

On Tuesday, a joint NDOH and WHO team deployed to the two provinces to deliver immediate medical assistance and determine the health needs of people living in some of the worst-affected areas. The team consists of medical practitioners and experts in public health, surveillance, nutrition, gender health and human rights. Over three days, the group will also visit health facilities to assess the damage and plan for the rapid resumption of life-saving health services.

WHO staff Roland Kuuzer with provincial health workers assessing health facilities in Mendi, Southern Highlands.

With new information being transmitted every day on the scale of damage from the earthquake, WHO has also mobilised two international emergency experts to PNG to assist with partner coordination and disease surveillance.

Dr Luo said WHO will continue to assist the National Department of Health and provincial health teams in the coordination of the health response and in developing both short- and longer-term plans to restore health services to the affected communities.

With support from WHO, the NDOH has set up an Emergency Response Structure (ERS) under the direct supervision of the Secretary for Health. The health department immediately responded to urgent health needs after the earthquake, dispatching essential medicines and supplies on board an Australian aircraft carrying the first delivery of aid to the affected areas.

Under WHO’s leadership, the first humanitarian health partner meeting took place within 24 hours of the earthquake, to ensure effective coordination and response planning. Partners in the health response include the NDOH, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, UNICEF, UNFPA, local and international NGOs and others.

WHO will continue to work closely with the NDOH and health partners to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure the most vulnerable communities receive the life-saving support that they urgently need.

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