The fight against COVID-19: ensuring the safety of communities in Papua New Guinea

Globally, UN Volunteers have contributed to national responses to COVID-19, supporting persons in need, and strengthening the capacity of businesses to operate effectively under state of emergency regulations. In Papua New Guinea, UN Volunteers assist the United Nations, government bodies and other partners in delivering a coordinated and inclusive COVID-19 response.

In Port Moresby, UN Women provided hygiene supplies for the National Capital District and researched to support local market vendors. UN Volunteers Jacinta Nakachwa (Uganda), Mojisola Akinsanya (Nigeria), Sita Gurung (Nepal), Goodshow Bote (Zimbabwe), and Christopher Kageni (Papua New Guinea), are all supporting these efforts.

Photo: UN Volunteer Mojisola Akinsanya, conducting needs assessment at a market in Port Moresby. ©UNV, 2020
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UN Volunteers serving with UN Women are helping to conduct needs assessments in markets across Port Moresby. These rapid market assessments focus on COVID-19 knowledge levels, myth and misconceptions, responsiveness, the preparedness of market management, and the impact of COVID-19 on the socio-economic status of market vendors.

The findings have shown that there is still a lot of awareness effort needed. Since Papua New Guinea has not had as many COVID-19 cases as neighboring countries, people need to be disillusioned about myths and complacent beliefs. --Jacinta Nakachwa, UN Volunteer with UN Women

Jacinta draws from her experiences in Uganda to combat complacency: "Experiences are shared, so the Ebola virus outbreak in Uganda, for example, is supporting campaigns and sensitization efforts in hopes that if we follow all WHO and health guidelines, we can overcome the pandemic."

Photo: UN Volunteer Jacinta Nakachwa at the Kopi market in Port Moresby. "Humanity and brotherhood in action – despite the impact of COVID-19, market vendors in Kopi Market in Port Moresby are welcoming, and always share some food items with us," says Jacinta. ©UNV, 2020
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Additionally, UN Women has kept the public posted on which domestic violence services remain open during the state of emergency and developed materials to support women who may be experiencing violence while local services are unavailable. UN Women also works with the local authorities to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on the public transport sector.

Photo: As part of the effort to protect women and girls on public transport, UN Volunteers with UN Women presented PPEs to public motor vehicle operators in Port Moresby. From left to right are UN Volunteers Christopher Kageni, Mojisola Akinsanya, Sita Gurung and Jacinta Nakachwa with the communications and outreach team, assisting COVID-19 support efforts. ©UNV, 2020
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With the help of volunteers in Bougainville, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) further assesses the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and the state of emergency. National UN Volunteer Theresa Baranangko is collecting survey responses for this assessment.

The purpose of the assessment is to inform the government, development partners, and private sector to focus their response, policies, and programmes to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged segments of society. Doing this will minimize the social and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on the assessment, specific and targeted strategic interventions can go side-by-side with the government’s economic stimulus package for a quick recovery.

Photo: UN Volunteer Theresa Baranangko (centre) with colleagues from UN Women, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), sorting survey forms in the UN conference room, Buka (before sending to the head office in Port Moresby). ©UNV, 2020
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Meanwhile, with the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), UN Volunteer Eric Sena from Ghana is supporting the women's Nationwide MicroBank, and Life Insurance Corporation Limited (LICL) to digitize processes that would otherwise require face-to-face interactions, limiting opportunities for exposure.

LICL customers will be able to submit membership applications and claim forms online soon and make payments via mobile and internet banking. 

Photo: Rural women digitally accessing financial services at a MicroBank agent point. ©UNV, 2020
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In Port Moresby, UN Volunteers attended the opening of the city’s COVID-19 testing and isolation centre. They saw a simulation of how health workers are prepared to manage a potential increase in cases. Developed with insights from WHO and logistical support from UNDP, International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Fund Programme (WFP) and the Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO), the isolation centre is now operational and open for testing residents referred by the national COVID-19 hotline.

Photo:: UN Volunteers attending the opening of the isolation facility in Port Moresby. Left to right are UN Volunteers Jacinta Nakachwa, Sita Gurung, Goodshow Bote (UN Women) and Rachel Donovan (UN RCO). ©UNV, 2020

UN Volunteer Rachel Donovan from Australia has been working with other UN personnel from WHO, UNDP, UNICEF and the RCO at the National Operations Centre, supporting communications activities. She also visited the provincial COVID-19 taskforce in Kiunga, Western Province, as the UN announced new funding to support the provincial administration in addressing secondary impacts of COVID, including maternal health, nutrition, water and sanitation.

Visiting the communities most at risk of COVID-19 and its secondary impacts helps us understand the information needed and the gaps in knowledge and services we ought to bridge. It has been incredible to see how much we all need to collaborate with other agencies, governments, churches and community groups to do our work effectively. The UNV community here in Port Moresby makes that essential collaboration possible. --UN Volunteer Rachel Donovan

Photo: Deborah Moses, from the Western Provincial Authority, and UN Volunteer Rachel Donovan, during a UN visit to Kiunga to assess the secondary impacts of COVID-19 in the border provinces. ©UNV, 2020 
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Communications activities on COVID-19 are evolving to respond to the needs of vulnerable communities and to the specific concerns of provinces. UNAIDS, with the assistance of UN Volunteer Abigail Brown from Australia, has conducted surveys among persons living with HIV/AIDS and persons with tuberculosis.

The survey enables UNAIDS and partners to assess the needs of persons living with HIV/AIDS and persons with tuberculosis to ensure safe access to medication and healthcare services. It will aid advocacy for improved training and messaging for service providers.

The need to reduce stigma through responsible reporting on COVID-19 by national media is critical to responding to the concerns of survey participants.

Photo: Excerpt of UNAIDS survey to assess the needs of people living with HIV in Papua New Guinea during COVID-19. ©UNV, 2020
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To mark World Press Freedom Day (3 May), the RCO’s Office organized a dialogue between the government and news media editors to strengthen public interest reporting during the COVID-19 emergency. The dialogue brings together the work of UN Volunteers from UNAIDS and the RCO. It is a model for conducting productive, engaging discussions while adhering to physical distancing rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The generosity of UN Volunteers in Papua New Guinea who give their time and expertise to assist our COVID-19 response despite rising needs in their home countries is commendable. We are grateful for the dedication of each of our volunteers, including our national UN Volunteers, who bring a great spirit of volunteerism to our UN agencies.” --Gianluca Rampolla, UN Resident Coordinator

UN Volunteers in Papua New Guinea continue to collaborate with their host agencies and the wider UN family to deliver a coordinated COVID-19 response. "Since the World might have to live with the pandemic for an unknown period,” says Jacinta, “every effort counts to ensure that everyone adopts the new normal."

Photo: ©UNV, 2020

This article was prepared with the kind support of Online Volunteer Anderson Ezie.

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