Around the world, cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates.
Globally, the number of new cases per week has nearly doubled over the past two months.
This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic.
Some countries that had previously avoided widespread transmission are now seeing steep increases in infections.
One of those countries is Papua New Guinea.
Until the beginning of this year, Papua New Guinea had reported less than 900 cases, and just 9 deaths.
It has now reported more than 9300 cases, and 82 deaths. While these numbers are still smaller than other countries, the increase is sharp and WHO is very concerned about the potential for a much larger epidemic.
There is large-scale community transmission in the capital Port Moresby and the Western Province, and all 22 provinces have now reported cases, although in the last two weeks we have seen some decline.
Rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine started in late March, with 8 thousand doses donated by Australia, and a further 132 thousand doses from COVAX arrived this week.
The vaccine is being offered first to priority groups, including health workers, to protect the local health system.
Through WHO’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, or GOARN, 13 experts have been deployed to support the government with case management, epidemiology, infection prevention and control, laboratory support and information management.
Emergency medical teams from Australia, Germany and the United States have also arrived to support the response, with others expected in the coming weeks.
WHO is continuing to work closely with the National Department of Health and partners to provide technical advice and support, and to boost local health response capacity. This includes an emphasis on expanding testing.
Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important.
It has held COVID-19 at bay for so long, but with rising infections, understandable fatigue with social restrictions, low levels of immunity among the population, and a fragile health system, it’s vital that it receives more vaccines as soon as possible.
And I would like to use this opportunity to thank Australia for donating vaccines to Papua New Guinea, and my thanks to the Foreign Minister of Australia, who has expressed full support for Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea is one of 37 countries in WHO’s Western Pacific Region. Although the first cases of COVID-19 were reported from the Western Pacific, the region still has the fewest cases and deaths of WHO’s six regions.
Many of its countries have applied lessons learned from past experience with infectious disease outbreaks like SARS, MERS and influenza, and have been strong examples of how COVID-19 can be contained with proven public health measures.
Cases are now increasing sharply in Papua New Guinea and some other countries in the region. The trajectory is worrying and the situation is fragile.