Drug shortages put patients at risk

The Port Moresby General Hospital in the capital has been forced to accept donations to keep patients alive.



The country's finest hospital has been in dire need of medical supplies for more than a month, with the head of surgery, Ikau Kevau, expressing concern about the shortages of syringes, catheters and essential drugs in operating theatres. Most wards were running out of essential medical supplies as well, he said.



Port Moresby is not the only hospital experiencing drug shortages; a lot of hospitals and health centres in rural areas face similar problems. Some refer patients to the nearest village while patients with money travel to towns for treatment.



The lack of medical supplies, according to Kevau, is due to a lack of financial support from the government and the absence of an effective system to routinely restock supplies.



The Port Moresby General Hospital chief executive officer, Alphonse Tay, told local media his hospital was in crisis due to insufficient funding.



Shortages include bio-hazard protective gear such as gloves and masks. Tay says this puts staff at risk of infections, including from TB and other diseases.



Tay said the hospital did not generate its own income but depended on monthly disbursements from the PNG Finance Department.



"The hospital does not buy medicine; the Health Department does that through the medical supplies division," he said. "The hospital, through its pharmacy, submits monthly orders to the medical supply facility at Badili, a suburb in Port Moresby where the facility is located, and too often we discover that essential medicines are simply not available." The health department is said to have come up with a procurement system which it believes should ease these problems once everyone knows how the system is expected to work.



Health Minister Sasa Zibe told IRIN the hospital did not have the required resources to function effectively to meet its expected role and responsibility as the country's premier hospital. He said many of the reasons were beyond the hospital management's concern. "The national hospital is currently providing medical services way beyond its scope because it is serving a population far larger than it really should."



Given such shortages, local businesses, church groups, NGOs and individuals have donated funds to purchase additional medical supplies.



In Ward 4A - the unofficial HIV/AIDS ward - the nurse in charge, Sister Elizabeth Waken, treats dozens of patients each month, many of whom are dying, and struggles to keep up with the increasing numbers.



The ward, she says, is routinely running out of sheets, masks, nappies, soap and critical medication.



Overflowing morgue



The crisis is not simply in treatment of the living but of the dead as well.



The morgue has been filled beyond capacity to the extent that in mid-February the city authorities conducted a mass burial of 75 bodies.



The mortuary has a total storage capacity of 64 corpses. A morgue attendant told IRIN a tray should hold only one corpse; however, currently hospital staff are forced to pile three corpses on each tray to accommodate all the bodies.



He said the air-conditioning system had been inoperative for three years and the stench penetrated throughout much of the neighbourhood where the morgue is located.



The hospital management has, on numerous occasions, appealed to the public to collect the bodies of their dead relatives and bury them.



However, many fail to do so. Hospital authorities said most of the bodies were not collected because relatives did not have the funds for a decent burial.



cp/bj/mw