ANGRY PNG VILLAGERS ATTACK HIGHLANDS HOSPITAL

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Death of patient triggers retribution

By Andrew Alphonse

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, May 12, 2008) - Increased criminal activities and prolonged attacks on staff have forced the Ialibu district hospital in the Southern Highlands to remain close for the past two months.

About 200,000 people from Imbonggu, Ialibu, Pangia, Kagua and Erave districts are affected.

Ialibu is a referral hospital for the people in the eastern end of the province.

The National visited the hospital premises on Saturday and saw tall grasses engulfing the premises. No staff or patients were to be seen.

Alphonse Sambai, a nursing officer, said the hospital’s 26 staff closed the hospital and walked off from duties in March this year. Mr. Sambai said the workers were angry because of prolonged attacks coupled with increased theft and vandalism of hospital properties by the locals.

He said in March, grieving relatives of a woman who died from the nearby Koromi village stormed the hospital and smashed properties before commandeering the ambulance. They had blamed the hospital for the death of the woman.

He said health extension officer George Epei also fled for this life as he was threatened by the relatives. He said the ambulance was retrieved a few weeks later but is in Mendi now.

Sambai said just recently, some local youths also assaulted a veteran female nursing officer, who is from Rai Coast in Madang but has served in Ialibu for more than 23 years.

The youths had attempted to rape her but, failing that, broke six of her front teeth and jaw.

He said while the hospital remain closed, thugs again broke in and stole properties including five electric water pumps.

Hospital board interim chairman David Rema said following the closure, many people have died while hundreds of sick people have been sent away.

Mr. Rema said five mothers in labor delivered their babies at the doorsteps of the hospital.

He has called on the province’s national and provincial leaders and administration to intervene immediately.

Rema also said police were ineffective.

Ialibu-Pangia deputy district administrator Patrick Rama has met with provincial health adviser Thomas Anda and provincial administrator, William Powi, to seek funding to buy new water pumps.

While hospital staff stay away from work, patients with the money are traveling to Mendi, Mt Hagen and Kudjip hospitals to seek medical assistance.

Community leader Albert Tawia has called on their local MP and Public Service Minister Peter O’Neill to return home and ensure Ialibu hospital is reopened.

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