Challenges of establishing an emergency medical team in Papua New Guinea
Keywords:COVID-19, pandemics, disasters, rapid response team, developing countries, Papua New Guinea, World Health Organization
Problem: Papua New Guinea (PNG) is situated in the Pacific Ocean and has experienced multiple natural disasters and disease outbreaks. However, PNG lacks the ability to rapidly and systematically deploy trained personnel to provide surge capacity in response to major national disasters. It was therefore decided to establish a national emergency medical team (EMT) in PNG.
Context: PNG’s responses to the 2018 earthquake in the Highlands Region and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic required assistance from international EMTs. PNG began developing its own EMT in 2019, coinciding with the development of other Pacific EMTs.
Action: PNG’s EMT project was initiated in 2019 with the creation of a technical working group. By 2021, a focal point had been identified, standard operating procedures had been drafted and training of EMT members had been completed. Pilot deployments of the national EMT members contributed to the COVID-19 response during 2021.
Outcome: Four major challenges were identified during the early phase of PNG’s national EMT development: introducing the concept of EMTs in an EMT-naïve landscape; integrating the national EMT into existing PNG National Department of Health organizational structures; assembling adequate members at short notice to respond to disasters; and securing funding for deployment.
Discussion: Solutions identified for these challenges included strengthening stakeholder involvement through engagement in the development process and participation in technical working groups and consultative group discussions, offering exposure to other Pacific-based EMTs, and creating incentive schemes for EMT members and their place of employment.