Rice Company Offers To Deliver Medical Supplies Around PNG

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Australian firm SunRice could use trucks to transport aid

By Pacific affairs correspondent Liam Fox

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Sept. 30, 2015) – An Australian rice company operating in Papua New Guinea could help deliver much-needed medical supplies around the country.

SunRice has offered the use of its trucks to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who has been pushing to increase the involvement of private businesses in aid delivery.

It could be the first example of what she has dubbed "the new aid paradigm".

The company import millions of dollars worth of Australian-grown rice into PNG annually and transports it around the country.

SunRice CEO Rob Gordon believes aid delivery could easily be integrated into the company's distribution network.

"We have 11 distribution centres across the country and we are the main provider of food security, frankly, to the country with around 80 per cent market share and we make sure that rice supply is provided on a continuing basis," he said.

Mr Gordon said he offered the use of the company's trucks to distribute medical supplies after hearing Ms Bishop tell a story of a visit to a PNG medical clinic that hadn't had any antiseptic in weeks, but locals could easily purchase goods like Coca-Cola.

"I was aware that our business in Papua New Guinea is one of the best distributors of product around the country and has trucks driving the Highlands Highway as its called almost on a daily basis, so I approached the minister after her speech and just suggested we'd be very keen to see if we could help out," he said.

Distribution challenges

In Papua New Guinea's highlands region it can be a challenge for hospitals to keep their medical supplies maintained.

Matthew Kaluvia, the CEO of the Kundiawa hospital in Chimbu province, said the hospital runs out of essential supplies once a month and he believes SunRice's offer could be a practical solution.

"It's really affecting the operation of the hospital. Doctors have to stop giving out medications because we don't have drugs in our supplies in the hospital," he said.

Mr Kaluvia said when deliveries don't arrive he has to send his staff on the eight hour drive to the port city of Lae, or fly them to the capital Port Moresby, to get more.

"The department of health have made an agreement with one of the companies to supply the drugs and medical supplies to respective hospitals but sometimes we don't receive these services because of, probably, the communication breakdowns or probably because they're not coming regularly to the highlands."

Conflict of interest concerns

The involvement of private businesses in aid delivery is nothing new.

In Africa the use of Coca Cola's supply chains has had some success improving delivery times and access to drugs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

But Sam Byfield, health consultant with the Nossal Institute for Global Health, said the involvement of companies like Coca-Cola in aid delivery can give rise to potential conflicts of interest.

"For a company like Coca-Cola for instance, or McDonalds is another good example, their marketing strategies and their engagement strategies are very clearly based on trying to establish this healthy halo effect so that people, particularly children and their parents, see these products as actually contributing to improving public health, not the exact opposite," he said.

Mr Byfield said it was unlikely SunRice's offer had the same potential for conflict of interest, but it would be imperative any deal involving a private company in the delivery of aid would have to be transparent.

"Ensuring there's an understanding of the business itself, of their social and environmental safeguards, there needs to be value added, by entering into a partnership you need to be able to achieve more in terms of getting those medical supplies out there than you would without the assistance of SunRice."

The Foreign Affairs Department has told the ABC it welcomes SunRice's interest in distributing medical supplies.

A spokesman said the department was actively looking at ways to assist SunRice and other companies to work with the PNG government in this area.

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