1. Home
  2. Asia
  3. Papua New Guinea

Cholera outbreak slows

Willie Kagoe, 47, of Banara Village, 160 km outside Madang, northern PNG is the latest victim of cholera
(David Swanson/IRIN)

A serious outbreak of cholera in Papua New Guinea (PNG) which has killed nearly 60 people shows signs of subsiding, government health officials say.

“The situation has improved in recent weeks,” Victor Golpak, the government’s national response coordinator for cholera, told IRIN from Port Moresby.

According to the country’s National Department of Health, close to 3,000 cases have been reported in the Pacific island nation since August, with the vast majority at the onset of the outbreak.

Of these, 766 were reported in Morabe Province, 1,324 in Madang Province, and 813 in East Sepik Province.

Two were reported in the Eastern Highlands Province, as well as one from Vanimo, the provincial capital of Sundaun Province, and another from the country’s national capital district.

A total of 59 deaths have been confirmed.

National response team

Following the first case in Morabe, the health department established a national response team, supported by the National Disaster Response Centre, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international partners.

The disease was later detected in Madang in October, followed by another outbreak in East Sepik in November, with many health experts warning of a much wider spread.

“That didn’t happen because of resource mobilization and awareness activities,” Golpak said, citing support from the UN, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Oxfam, World Vision and others.

“Their assistance was vital,” he said.

A greater awareness of hygiene practices, including hand washing, has all had an effect, he added.

Scaling back

In response, the government has begun scaling back its activities in some areas.

“I think we are coming to an end to the outbreak,” said Sibauk Bieb, the operations coordinator for the government’s cholera task force in Madang.

“We are only getting one or two patients a week. At the moment, we don’t have a single patient at our centre,” he added, predicting they would wind up their activities soon.

But while the numbers have improved, the underlying causes in terms of water and sanitation have not.

“We cannot afford to be complacent. Cholera remains a source of concern and the risk of another outbreak is very real," said Hernan del Valle, MSF’s head of mission in Port Moresby, stressing the need for greater preparedness, as well as government investment in water and sanitation.

Cholera, an acute intestinal infection, is fuelled largely by poor sanitation practices and inadequate access to safe drinking water.

About 58 percent of PNG’s six million inhabitants lack access to safe drinking water, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) says.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

It was The New Humanitarian’s investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that uncovered sexual abuse by aid workers during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led the World Health Organization to launch an independent review and reform its practices.

This demonstrates the important impact that our journalism can have. 

But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking. 

We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.

The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and shine a light on similar abuses. 

Become a member today and support independent journalism

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.