Coronavirus: Seven New PNG Cases Worry Indonesia

  • If an outbreak happens, health facilities, both in West Papua and Papua, are not expected to be ready to serve existing patients.
  • Finding positive cases in the region was quite difficult because of the obstacles they faced in testing the results of swab tests.
  • "These difficulties in transportation have made it difficult for health workers to look for positive cases in the community."

Papua New Guinea has recorded five new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number in the country to seven. This has worried medical personnel in the neighboring Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua about a possible explosion of COVID-19 cases. However, the number of cases in the region is relatively lower than that of the Jakarta Metropolitan Area.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), also known as 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD), and novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) is a viral respiratory disease caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). It was first detected during the 2019–20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

In West Papua, testing for COVID-19 test results is still slow, a condition which, according to a doctor, can lead to an outbreak. If that happens, health facilities, both in West Papua and Papua, are not expected to be ready to serve existing patients.

The government claims it will speed up tests for the area by conducting a molecular rapid test (TCM) of Tuberculosis (TB), as an alternative to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. However, until mid-April, the tests could not be carried out in the province, according to the West Papua COVID-19 Task Force for the Acceleration of Handling.

Testing an Obstacle

Medical workers in West Papua said finding positive cases in the region was quite difficult because of the obstacles they faced in testing the results of swab tests. Faisal, a nurse at Sorong City Hospital, West Papua, explained that the test specimen could not be tested for about three weeks because access to and from the city of Sorong was closed since early April.

In fact, testing must be done outside the city, either Jakarta or Makassar, because West Papua does not yet have a laboratory that can check COVID-19 specimens. Up to mid-April, in Sorong City, one person had died as a result of positive COVID-19. Faisal added that one patient under surveillance, PDP, who was a neighbor of the deceased, died shortly before being tested by COVID-19.

Specimens from Sorong have only been tested again since sending a number of test results to Makassar on April 15, said Doctor Tumpal Simatupang, who is serving at Sorong Regional Hospital. Although the distance is closer to Jayapura, Papua, Tumpal said that Jayapura’s restricted access makes it difficult for health workers to send specimens there. There are at least 7 positive cases of COVID-19 in West Papua with no deaths currently.

Two Week Waiting Time for Tests

In Manokwari, an area with at least two positive cases, difficulties with specimen delivery also occur, said Chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association, IDI, Manokwari, Adhe Ismawan. Adhe said the specimen could only initially be sent to Jakarta before it was decided to be sent to Makassar.

Coronaviruses are species of virus belonging to the subfamily Coronavirinae in the family Coronaviridae, in the order Nidovirales. There are seven known strains of human coronaviruses, including COVID-19.

“While Jakarta [is] still lining up with other provinces, we Manokwari have to wait 10 days or even two weeks to get results,” Adhe said. For the first time, on April 11 specimens were sent to Makassar by civil aircraft. “These difficulties in transportation,” Adhe said, “have made it difficult for health workers to look for positive cases in the community.”

“We don’t know how many patients out there who actually ware masks according to the procedure,” Adhe said. “What we are worried about is, if there are asymptomatic patients out there, this will be very dangerous for the community . . . eventually, the spread will be even more widespread in Manokwari.” If that happens, Adhe is worried about an outbreak or explosion of cases in West Papua.

As of April 19, West Papua had sent 81 samples to the Balitbangkes in Jakarta and Makassar. Responding to this, a government spokesman for COVID-19 treatment, Achmad Yurianto said it had sought molecular rapid tests (TCM), which had been used for tuberculosis, to test COVID-19. He said 305 health facilities throughout Indonesia were already able to use the tool as an alternative to the PCR test.

“(A total of) 305 (health facilities) are included in Mimika, Merauke, Sorong, Fakfak, Sikka (NTT), Lembata (NTT),” he said. Even so, West Papua COVID-19 Task Force spokesperson, Arnoldus Tiniap, said TCM could not yet be implemented in his region. “There is a device, but it needs to be installed and a cartridge is needed (for testing COVID-19),” Arnoldus said.

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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