The Patron of PNG Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR) Sir Peter Barter has raised grave concerns over the recent statement made by Prime Minister James Marape related to IMR failing to undertake research into the COVID19 virus.
“It appears that the Honorable Prime Minister has been misled which in turn reflects on the PNG institute of Medical Research credibility,” said Patron Barter.
He claimed IMR had not received any funding from National COVID19 Control Centre or the National Government to undertake research into the COVID19 virus or current pandemic,
“The only funding received is to support testing which is being undertaken in Goroka and Port Moresby who have been limited by the shortages of testing kits and other consumables, not least the need to adequately fund on going research projects into other diseases that are of importance to the public.”
According to PNGIMR records more than 30,000 tests from all 22 provinces have been performed in Goroka and Port Moresby by IMR. Since May due to decentralisation of testing to provinces and global shortages of laboratory consumables IMR has responded in several other ways.
PNGIMR scientists have developed and sourced funding from eleven COVID-19 research projects covering key biomedical, laboratory and socio-behavioural issues in PNG, some of the research activities begun with preliminary results expected in late 2021 and early 2022.
“It is not correct for the Prime Minister to ask research institutions and universities to go to him with a proposal. First of all, the correct approach would be for scientific proposals to be screened, peer-reviewed and assessed for their eligibility for funding based on scientific appropriateness, merit and credibility. It is also important to understand the difference between public health research or applied research which PNGIMR does compared to Research and Development (R&D) which multi-billion dollar drug companies do.”
The patron said most of the time the multi-billion dollar companies do not find a hit drug, chemical or diagnostic tool and they end up spending a lot of resources and time in refining their search. Sometimes their search can take up to 20 or 25 years. PNGIMR does not have this level of resources and is not in the R&D space.
“If the government is serious about R&D it will need to seriously invest a significant amount of money every year instead of being misled into thinking we can develop drugs and vaccines overnight.”
The under-resourcing of health system in PNG is highlighted by the lack of laboratory capacity to diagnose SARS-CoV2. More than 17, 000 cases and 192 deaths have been reported today, many more are likely to be recorded in the months ahead with the new “delta” variant already identified in PNG which will further impose real challenges for our health systems.
The current death rate in Indonesia, our closest neighbour is over 2000 per day, in Fiji, a brother Melanesian country, with 60% vaccination is seriously being challenged with the delta variant and in Australia, the cities of Sydney and Melbourne are in full lockdown for what is being reported for at least 4 weeks.
“A leading PNG physician thanked me and Team for the strong stance to paving away forward for all Business and Public to follow. When we do not have the capacity to contain such outbreaks, epidemics and pandemic, the only option is vaccination.”
He said we in PNG have less that 0.06% of our population vaccinated and testing as all but came to a standstill which has prompted the notion that the spread is declining when the exact opposite is occurring. Those provinces indicating the highest positive cases indicate that more tests are being carried out as opposed to the provinces with lower positive cases and not undertaking testing which is providing false data.
The issue of blood clots with the AstraZeneca Vaccine indicates 0.004% in 1m vaccinations; the Birth Control Pill indicate 500-1200 cases in 1m women representing 0.05% to 0.12%; Smoking 1763 cases in 1m smokers representing 0.18% and the Unvaccinated COVID Infection shows 165,000 cases in 1m represent 16.5%. Given these facts one should not question being vaccinated with AstraZeneca.
“In my capacity as former Minister for Health and HIV/Aids and later as Chairman of the National Aids Council we failed miserably in testing to really know the prevalence and even today, whilst emphasis is on COVID19, the spread of HIV/Aids remains rampant to what extent, we do not know as it appears to have gone off the radar, we cannot afford this to happen with COVID19.”
In Madang, the PNGIMR base has been struggling to obtain their laboratory functioning due to lack of funding, all testing was taken by road to Goroka, others to Port Moresby and the turn-round rate extended beyond 14-21 days.
“Madang airport is now closed for 3 weeks which is further hampering testing, even if the GeneXpert, and rapid antigen (RDT) tests consumables were available.”
The reality is with such low testing data, it is impossible to know with any certainty how many people test positive and without this information there is no way in which we can predict the future and hope for PNG in the future.
The Melanesian Foundation published two editions of the COVID Q&A booklet written by Professor Glen Mola with help of OTML and Kumul Petroleum, the Australian Government, a total of 200,000 copies have been sitting in Port Moresby awaiting the release of funds from NCC or the NDoH to send to the Province – such information if badly needed to provide accurate information and put an end to all the misinformation being disseminated on social media.
These books have now been waiting to be air freighted for more than a month during which time, questions are being raised about the help the private sector is assisting with the Pandemic.
The protocols in place in PNG which include masking, distancing, washing hands, placing people in isolation have largely failed and the only real hope is to implement vaccination on a massive scale, if necessary, through a less democratic system whereby the public must recognise it is not just their lives, but the lives of their family and wantoks that could be infected. This is a personal view, which is not necessarily endorsed by PNGIMR but offers a solution which will restore the economy and normalcy we once enjoyed prior to COVID19.
“What infuriates me as a citizen is the criticism of the PNGIMR which since established as the Institute of Human Biology in 1968, later the PNGIMR on the excellent research that has been undertaken which has saved countless lives throughout PNG which include Malaria, Kuru, Measles, Chicken Pox, Whooping Cough, Hepatitis A&B, Tetanus, influenza, Rubella, Mumps, Diphtheria, Elephantiasis, Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, Polio, Cervical Cancer, HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted infections. All of which have been controlled thanks to vaccines through research not only in PNG but internationally.
PNGIMR is one of the success stories, it has won international recognition for the research carried out and in the case of Kuru Disease, have won the Nobel Prize. Each year they hold a symposium attended by scientists from all over the world, due to COVID Pandemic this year it will be a virtual symposium to be held on 12th August which will highlight some of the impactful research that has been conducted in recent years. The PNGIMR has invited the Prime Minister to attend and open the Symposium.
“As Patron of the PNGIMR, I do not profess to be a scientist, but I have worked alongside the Institute for more than 50 years in Goroka, Maprik and Madang. I have witnessed what has been achieved and trust the Prime Minister and other leaders will take time to learn more about the wonderful achievements and ways in which we can handle similar pandemics in the future together and provide us all a brighter future.”