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The Gulf Provincial Health Authority (PHA) is partnering with the Oil Search Foundation (OSF) to integrate routine immunisation (RI) with COVID-19 vaccination across the province.

As the world celebrates Immunisation Week, partners are doing their best to make sure that children receive the recommended doses of childhood vaccinations to prevent unnecessary deaths and severe illnesses while protecting the adult population from COVID-19.

In October 2021, the Gulf PHA was in the top four PHAs in the country delivering the first phase of COVID- 19 vaccinations for health workers and support staff, essential workers and vulnerable populations.

Now with OSF as their lead partner, they have turned their attention to making sure that all communities across the Province have access to RI services and the COVID-19 vaccines.

"PNG now has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world. Our country is at great risk of an outbreak of a preventable disease such as measles or polio that can harm our children. We need to immunise as many children as possible as quickly as possible.”
- Mr Gerea Aop Gulf Provincial Health Authority Board Chairman

Across PNG fear of COVID-19 vaccines is reportedly high with health professionals and their partners confronting community resistance and misinformation on a daily basis The OSF team conducted awareness on COVID-19, clarifying issues and the difference between routine immunisation and COVID-19 vaccines including the safety of both. Whilst the awareness for COVID-19 was underway for the adults, PHA staff were conducting RI for children. Mothers who brought in their children for RI were also getting vaccinated against COVID-19 after being better informed through the awareness.

“COVID-19 is a new emerging disease’ said health worker Sr Serah Mikailu and many people fear it and don’t understand the vaccine. This has meant we need to learn new ways to communicate and explain both the importance of vaccination against the disease while continuing to protect children through routine immunisation. Our capacity is boosted by partnering with the OSF team. We are learning from the OSF team while integrating and working as one team” said a local Health worker.

Prior to receiving immunisations, community leaders attended a COVID-19 information meeting. They then mobilised their communities for COVID-19 awareness and vaccination as well as RI for children. The RI and COVID-19 vaccination booths were set up separately to cater for the different patient groups.

Awareness sessions were also held at schools and were attended by both parents and their children. The key messages given to the school children was the importance of keeping themselves healthy to avoid absenteeism due to sickness. For adults, the focus is on emphasising the importance of COVID-19 vaccine and childhood immunisation.

“It is important the teams visit all the villages to run similar types of meetings as some people are still scared to get the vaccine. The team which includes a Medical Officer, Nursing Officer and Social Mobiliser is good. People need to hear from people with the right knowledge to clearly explain the importance of immunisation”.
- A Councillor from Murua

The first of these integrated patrols was conducted in three sites of Kerema District: Iokea, Silo and Lese communities from February to March 2022 and staff from these clinics joined the PHA and OSF teams to integrate the immunisation programs.

This integrated approach proved successful with an increase in adults vaccinated against COVID-19. At the same time many children received their childhood immunisations. The people in these communities are now aware of the differences and similarities between COVID -19 vaccines and routine immunisations.