PNG CHILDREN DIE AS DRUGS SIT ON DOCKS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 19, 2002 - The Age/AAP)---A hospital in central Papua New Guinea has run out of medical supplies in its battle to treat a measles epidemic that is killing two children a day.

The chief executive of the Mount Hagen general hospital, Dr. James Kintwa, said the urgently needed drugs were stranded on wharves across PNG because authorities had failed to pay collection fees.

With the hospital unable to get the drugs, opportunist druggists had doubled prices, Dr. Kintwa said.

"Those who cannot pay may die," he said.

He said patients were being given prescriptions, but they had to come up with enough money to buy the drugs.

He said the hospital had emptied its trust fund to scrounge supplies because no shipments had arrived in two months.

"There's containers of drugs sitting on the wharves waiting to be cleared," Dr. Kintwa said. "We've closed our dispensary, so patients are being prescribed drugs to be bought at private pharmacies."

Dr. Kintwa said 30 of the 250 children treated for measles at his hospital in the past 10 weeks had died, with the crisis recently escalating to "two deaths a day."

While not attributing these deaths to the shortage, Dr. Kintwa fears more patients will die if emergency stocks of intravenous fluid do not arrive soon.

Measles, which can lead to a fatal brain inflammation, requires large quantities of intravenous fluids as treatment.

For additional reports from The Age, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Age.

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