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Bad weather and tribal fighting have not prevented the Southern Highland’s Provincial Health Authority (SHPHA) from continuing to head off the problem of polio.

Aided by Oil Search helicopters, together with staff and supplies from WHO and UNICEF, SHPHA recently completed its sixth round of polio vaccinations for children under five in the remote rural region.

Involving partnership to reach remote areas the effort is part of a nationwide campaign to eradicate the virus which re-emerged in 2018 after a 20-year absence.

“There’s nothing more important than protecting PNG’s children. And it’s a job for every single one of us.”
- Stephanie Copus Campbell Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authority Board Chair

Considered particularly susceptible to the disease, which can cause anything from flu-like symptoms to paralysis or death, the children also received vaccinations for the much-more-common rubella and measles.

SHPHA CEO Dr Joseph Birisi estimates that around 85% of Highlands children are now immune to polio.

“All in all, we have done exceptionally well,” he said of the vaccination campaign, which has achieved near 100% coverage in the districts of Imbongu and Ialibu Pangia, and numbers very close to it in Nipa Kutubu and Mendi Munihu.

“Kudos goes to our hard-working staff and the support from partners. We appreciate the help we’ve received from everyone including the National Department of Health, the Provincial Government and the District Development Authorities, Oil Search, the United Nations, as well as all the local churches.”

“This is for all of us and for our people.”

SHPHA’s success came despite wet and foggy conditions, which kept Oil Search helicopters grounded for close to a week.

“The weather was very bad,” confirms Oil Search Foundation’s Jenny Alpa, who also helped manage the medical teams’ housing and provided cold storage for their supplies.

“Day after day, everyone would be up before dawn and all ready to go – only to find out that they weren’t going anywhere. The fog was so thick you could hardly even see the chopper on the ground, let alone take it up in the air.”

The PHA’s team efforts were also hampered in Kagua Erave, due to the ongoing dangers posed by tribal conflict. Coverage of children within this area currently stands at just 66%. But, we will make sure these conflict areas are covered when the fight stops.

But elsewhere their jobs were made easier by the vast numbers of local parents who came to them seeking vaccinations – very often from far away.

“The community is the most important partner we have here,” says Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authority Board Chair, Stephanie Copus Campbell. “If we are ultimately going to defeat this disease, we must work with them right from the start. Above all, that means getting knowledge out there, so everyone can seek out the vaccinations they need, or report symptoms straightaway.”