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Simultaneous outbreak of deadly diseases

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Jan. 5, 2009) – Kiriwina islanders in the Trobriand group of islands have succumbed to a simultaneous outbreak of deadly diseases like typhoid, yaws, malaria, pneumonia and tuberculosis that have claimed 38 lives so far.

A district health inspector, based at Losuia, claimed the outbreak of the diseases was concurrent and people could now infect others.

He said the water supply at the Losuia Government station and the nearby villages was obtained from bored wells which were contaminated.

He also said the villagers along the coastal stretch from Tukwaukwa all the way to Kavataria were prone to infection as they relied on stream water, which were occasionally polluted with human faces and domesticated animals.

Another health officer said some villagers were so strong in their cultural sentiments that the introduction and use of pit toilets would seem foreign to them as they enjoyed free use of the bushes for defecation.

"The hospital is lacking basic medical drugs and there are already so many people being infected.

"Thirty-eight people have been confirmed dead and we are still short of medicines and other vital drugs to contain the outbreak," he added.

He also said the general environment surrounding the villages needed to be improved and it required the political will to change people’s mindset.

Provincial health authorities had dispatched a team of health technicians led by provincial disease controller Tirah Elliot to Losuia on the eve of Christmas to spend several weeks conducting intensive medical investigations and evaluations.

Mr. Elliot said the environment was conducive to outbreak of contagious diseases and the people needed to start changing their social and environmental habits to avoid contracting these infectious diseases.

Meanwhile, an officer from the national disaster office in Port Moresby has called on both the National and Milne Bay provincial governments to step in to prevent the outbreak of the disease on the islands.

"Can the Government help the Trobriand Islands that have lost 38 people? There needs to be one month treatment exercise throughout the islands which only requires some K500,000 [US$196,000]," he said.

He also said the water supply to Losuia station and all other village water sources should be improved.

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