Health Minister, Jelta Wong has allocated ambulances to St John to support the efforts in addressing the unprecedented pressure the recent COVID-19 surge has placed on Papua New Guinea’s health system.
As case numbers increase, emergency response services have been stretched to their limits. St John Ambulance service has struggled as calls for assistance grow.
This situation is made worse by the slow COVID-19 vaccination rates, of which Papua New Guinea now has among the lowest in the world.
The Minister for Health, Jelta Wong allocated two Land cruiser 4WD ambulances to St John to support COVID-19 operations in NCD and Lae.
The Land cruiser ambulances were donated to PNG through a grant from the Indian Government to the United National Development Program South-South Development Fund.
Both vehicles were procured and setup by the UNDP Papua New Guinea office.
With the current COVID-19 surge in NCD, St John has seen a 300 per cent increase in call volume, of which 75 per cent of cases being attended to by ambulances are COVID-19 related.
Patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome are waiting sometimes for hours to get an ambulance. In response to the request for more ambulances, Minister Wong immediately secured ambulances over the weekend to help respond to the current crisis.
He asked St John to operate two of the four ambulances that are in PNG now.
Two of these ambulances will be immediately put to use by St John in NCD to respond to current COVID-19 surge. Once fully fitted out, one ambulance will then be sent to Lae.
“It is vital we get these ambulances put to immediate use to save the lives of our people. This valuable support from UNDP and partners will provide urgent strengthening to emergency response in Port Moresby, and Provinces, at this critical time of national need,” said Minister for Health & HIV/AIDS, Jelta Wong MP.
“St John is the Government’s partner in emergency medical response. They are coordinating ambulances through the 111 ambulance control centre. These emergency ambulances are not just vehicles to transport the sick, these are emergency rooms on wheels, staffed by St John ambulance officers professionally trained to administer emergency life support.
“This latest COVID surge has seen emergency response services stretched to their limits. Ambulance services have struggled as calls for assistance grow. These ambulances will help assist in alleviating this, but it remains critical we roll out vaccinations as a priority,” said UNDP Resident Representative Mr Dirk Wagner.
Upon request, St John is currently being assisted by off-duty firefighters. For the next few weeks, St John’s ambulance crews will be split; a firefighter will drive the ambulance and a professional qualified ambulance officer will attend to the patient.
“Having the support from the PNG Fire Service means St John can get extra ambulances on road to keep up with demand in NCD. A similar initiative is being considered for Lae and Kokopo during this COVID surge,” said Matt Cannon, SJA CEO.
“This arrangement builds upon our long-term collegial emergency service partnership with PNG Fire Service, which is spearheaded by Chief Fire Office Bill Roo.”
The Minister for Health, Jelta Wong, acting Indian High Commission R.S. Virdi, and CEO of St John Ambulance, Matt Cannon were present during the handover ambulances.