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  • Nigel Akuani

COVID-19 Monitoring highlights Key Concerns of Citizens

Port Moresby: A monitoring exercise aimed at determining the level of understanding about COVID-19 among individuals has brought to light serious grievances experienced by schools and health centres in the country.

The monitoring facilitated by Caritas Australia was held from 8th to 11th November, in the Diocese of Goroka Eastern Highlands Province, and from 12th to 16th November, in Jiwaka Province, and onto to the Archdiocese of Mt Hagen in Western Highlands Province. The team’s perilous journey took them across the bitterly cold and vast mountainous terrains of the Highlands.

Schools and centres visited in Goroka included: St Bernard Namta Primary School; Kofena Primary School; Yamiufa Clinic and Primary School; Tafeto Health Centre, Primary and Parish; St Joseph Centre of Hope, Elementary School; Sacred Heart Faniufa Primary School; Don Bosco Primary School; St Joseph Vocational School and St Mary’s Elementary School. The Jiwaka and Western Highlands Provinces also had their fair share of schools and centres visited, namely: Kumil Primary School; Fatima Catholic High School.

Coordinating the program were Ms Charlotte Vada, Disaster Management Coordinator of Caritas Australia; and Ms Roslyn Kuniata,Program Quality and Effectiveness Manager at Caritas Australia. Assisting in the facilitation was Donatus Nahak, Caritas PNG Officer; and Nigel Akuani, Social Communications Personnel of the Catholic Bishops Conference.

According to Ms Vada, the monitoring is a follow-up of a three-day program that was held earlier from 17th to 19th June, at the Emmaus Conference Centre Boroko.“The program by Caritas Australia trained key diocesan staff from six priority provinces in COVID-19 Risk Communication and Community Engagement,” she said.

She added, “The staff returned to their provinces with plans and funding to disseminate information strategically to local schools, health workers and communities. These activities were carried out from August through to October, hence our monitoring trip this month.”

Mr Nahak emphasized the importance of the monitoring program and said it helped to identify internally displaced persons and groups within the provinces. “There are IDPs existent in the highlands region mostly because of the tribal wars between neighbouring clans that forced them to flee their homelands,” he stated.

Mr Gabriel Tai, Catholic Education Secretary of Mt Hagen, said the schools in Mt Hagen were honoured by the team’s visit as it served as an opportunity for teachers to openly express their experiences during the COVID-19 Lockdown. “Despite the government’s lacking in financial support to schools against the pandemic, many schools have made it their responsibility by having safety measures in place to protect their staff, students and communities,” he said.

He raised the issue of uninformed pay cuts and inadequate funding and said that both greatly affected the operations of schools. “There was a significant impact on our schools’ operational budget because many now had to forgo their long-term projects and spend additional money on equipment that was never planned for,” he said.

Senior Teacher of Kumil Primary School in Jiwaka, Mr Peter Mond, told of how the two-week lockdown period also caused a height sense of fear in parents forcing many of them to withdraw their children from classes. ‘One thing many of the people here know about COVID-19 is that it is causing a lot of death worldwide and this is the main factor driving parents to pull their kids out from the school. There needs to be more awareness on COVID-19 to assure parents of their children’s safety and to ensure their education progresses undisturbed,’ he said.

An official report detailing the outcome of the monitoring will be addressed to the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNGSI, Fr Giorgio Licini PIME; National Catholic Education Secretary and Chairman of the National Churches Education Council, Michael Ova; and Sr Jadwiga Faliszek, Secretary of Catholic Health Services PNG. The report will inform the church and its development partners on future COVID-19 preparedness and response planning so that needs on the ground are met.

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