What are the lessons with Covid-19? Seeing the ironies through a PNG lens

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PNG village
The safest places in Papua New Guinea right now are the villages where up to 70 percent of health facilities are closed because of lack of funding and lack of medicines. Image: Scott Waide

OPINION: By Scott Waide in Lae

So it’s a global pandemic with 16,000+ dead already, more than 375,000 infected and nearly 102,000 recovered.

It was a national health worry. But within days, it became a national emergency. The Prime Minister James Marape taking advice from the National Security Council, a state of emergency declared and Police Commissioner David Manning appointed SOE controller.

For the first time in Papua New Guinea’s history, all the politicians and all the top bureaucrats are in the country.

READ MORE: Papua New Guinea orders lockdown

None of them want to be overseas. Even the crooks who stole from Papua New Guinea’s health system and made millions from the bribes want to be here in a country which is largely Covid-19 free (at least for now).

The irony of it all just gives you warm fuzzy feelings. What a beautiful example of poetic justice?

Australia, Singapore, China and the rest of the world are the least attractive places for anyone right now.

Every public official who thumbed their noses at Papua New Guinea’s health system and went overseas for medical treatment, now expects our underpaid doctors and nurses to build facilities that will be Covid-19 ready in weeks.

Big ask.

Invest in our health system
Oops! Why didn’t we invest in the health system and build it up for our people? Maybe, just maybe, one day we might need to use it. That day has come. A bit early, I must say.

Here is another piece of irony for you. The safest places in Papua New Guinea right now are the villages where up to 70 percent of health facilities are closed because of lack of funding and lack of medicines.

Hundreds of villagers have been in “self-isolation” for decades. They don’t have to maintain “social distancing”.

A lead team member in Morobe’s Covid-19 response team said on Saturday: “The safest place right now is in the villages. They can easily self-isolate.”

I didn’t say that, he did.

While there are reports of urban dwellers, panic buying food items. Food security in the villages remains constant. The Western Highlanders will be complaining about having too much kaukau, potato, broccoli and cabbages because interprovincial travel has been drastically reduced and the Lae Market is closed.

I’d rather complain about having too much healthy food than about too many deaths from Covid-19.

Screaming for government attention
The PND Defence Force has been called on to provide security with the police. They have a funding shortage, planes that are grounded, facilities that have been screaming for government attention for decades.

They’ve been put on alert to be battle ready against Covid-19. Big ask. But I don’t doubt their abilities.

But let’s buy them the equipment, uniforms, vehicles and training. With our money.

Let’s make them a force to be reckoned with. Give them the planes and the choppers so they can support us with pride.

Let’s not wait for a global crisis to do that.

We face an economic crisis brought on by Covid-19. If there was any time in history to invest in agriculture (and I don’t mean oil palm), this is the time. This is the time to plant for the next 6-12 months to increase food security.

But at the same time, we should be building systems for the future when the rest of the world collapses around us.

Scott Waide is EMTV News deputy editor based in Lae. His My Land, My Country blog items are frequently republished with permission by the Pacific Media Centre

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