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Highlands health workers seek protection

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, April 29, 2008) - The Ialibu District Hospital, the only outback health center in the eastern end of Southern Highlands Province that serves more than 200,000 people, has been closed for six weeks.

About 42 health workers serving in the rural hospital are refusing to open doors, demanding government authorities urgently look into frequent attacks on staff and vandalism of hospital properties.

A health worker said a recent attack saw a nurse, from Madang Province, lose all her front teeth in an attempted rape allegedly perpetrated by locals. The same source said rampant vandalism on hospital properties like water pumps had hampered the delivery of much-needed health services to the people. He said health workers were also frustrated local villagers had seized the hospital’s only ambulance and moved into a doctor’s house.

The occupant of the house, a health extension officer, has since fled to Mendi and the house is being occupied by villagers. He said the management of the hospital had no option but to shut down the institution and refer the patients either to Mendi or Mt Hagen for treatment.

He said the ambulance was driven around in the district by a villager.

The health worker alleged hospital authorities had reported the matter to provincial police commander Samson Mapi but nothing had been done to arrest the man or remove the illegal occupants from the staff house. The nurse’s attackers are also still at large.

However, Mr. Mapi said police had already recovered the ambulance and handed it over to the hospital. He confirmed the attack on the nurse, saying it was an "administrative matter" being referred to the provincial health adviser to deal with although hospital staff claimed it was a police matter.

Meanwhile, the health worker said nurses were pressing for the replacement vehicle before they assumed their duties as it was risky for their movement, especially during night shifts and on call assignments.

He has appealed to community leaders living in the vicinity of Ialibu district to refrain from abusing health workers and vandalizing properties.

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