Rabaul hospital’s morgue out of service for five years – funding needed

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Nonga Hospital in East New Britain
Nonga Hospital in East New Britain . . . dead stored in chest freezers while awaiting new morgue cooling chanbers. Image: PNG Post-Courier screenshot APR

By Dianne Wilson in Rabaul, PNG

As the Papua New Guinea government continues its globe trotting, the Nonga Base hospital in Rabaul, East New Britain province, is facing a crisis with no morgue cooling chamber for the last five years.

The dead are piled on top of each other and are put into chest freezers that cannot hold more than four bodies at any given time.

The hospital’s morgue is currently the only mortuary in the province that caters for more than 400,000 people.

Hospital manager Dr Osiat Baining confirmed the hospital’s dilemma, saying that the faulty cooling chamber forced the hospital into purchasing nine chest freezers to cater for the dead.

Dead bodies are put in body bags and piled on top of each other and stored in large chest freezers inside the morgue.

The PNG Post-Courier was informed that Health Secretary Dr Osborne Liko is in the process of getting appropriate information on the issue and a detailed response will be made later.

The newspaper understands that given the autonomy of the Provincial Health Authority (PHA), the chief executives of the hospital and the PHA are the appropriate people to speak to.

Faulty cooling chamber
Dr Baining confirmed with the Post-Courier yesterday that the hospital morgue’s cooling chamber had been faulty and was in need of new parts that could only be purchased overseas.

“It’s been faulty for more than five years already, so we have been using chest freezers,” he said.

“We have about eight to nine chest freezers. For capacity, one chest freezer can hold up to four dead bodies.

“We have been trying to get a new [cooling] chamber because we don’t have parts available in the country for the one we have. Its an old one too and needs to be replaced,” he said.

Dr Baining added that a cooling chamber of 12 cabinets could cost almost 1 million kina  (NZ$465,000) and plans are underway by the hospital to get new cooling chambers for its morgue.

“We are actually in the process of getting a new one but at the moment we need funding, as well a supplier for it.

Depends on state budget
“It really depends on the government, on what budget they give us.

“If they give us enough for what we ask for, otherwise we cannot really get most of the things we need.”

Meanwhile, the diener, or “morgue man” at Rabaul Provincial Hospital’s morgue, Kero Kalang, said the biggest challenge of his job was getting dead bodies every day at his doorstep.

He said he was constantly concerned about space and appealed to responsible authorities like the Provincial Health Authority if another mortuary, like Port Moresby and Lae’s Funeral Home, could be set up in the province.

Dianne Wilson is a PNG Post-Courier journalist. Republished with permission.

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