Papua New Guinea facing cholera epidemic

A cholera outbreak that began in July 2009 in Papua New Guinea has infected at least 5,000 people and has claimed the lives of at least 79, causing overcrowded hospitals and a quickly diminishing stockpile of treatments.

The island of Daru in Papua New Guinea is one of the hardest hit by the epidemic, with at least 800 people diagnosed and around 300 people requiring emergency treatment at Daru General Hospital, which is severely underequipped with only 60 beds available, reports.

“There are two or three deaths every day,” Father Vinod D’Mello, a local priest, told Radio New Zealand earlier this month. “I can hear the crying from the hospital when I am in the church.

“They are just given an iron or stainless steel rod, to which the glucose bottle is being hung, in order to get them recovered from dehydration. They’re running out of glucose also.”

A joint operation between the World Health Organization, Australia and Papua New Guinea was established this November to address the Daru Island outbreak, delivering IV fluid, clean water containers, purification tablets, oral rehydration salts, posters on hygiene, and emergency and medical specialists, reports.

Australia has closed its borders to Papua New Guinea citizens for fear of the outbreak spreading, reports. A November report in the Australian revealed that over 300 Papua New Guinea citizens have been turned away.

In addition, Papua New Guinea has the highest prevalence of tuberculosis in the Pacific, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports. This includes over 16,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths per year.