Papua New Guinea currently has no radiotherapy treatment available for people who have cancer.
For the past two years, the nation’s only comprehensive cancer treatment facility in eastern Morobe province has been without a functioning radiation machine due to the government's inability to pass the regulatory legislation needed for it to be used.
The Nuclear Radiation Safety legislation, introduced in December 2015 and recently passed through Cabinet, reviews the procurement and use of radioactive materials. The legislation must be moved to meet nuclear safety regulations.
While the bill is being processed, the use of all radiation services has stopped.
#PNG’s parliament returns this week. Let’s hope the politicians pass the legislation needed to get the country’s only radiotherapy machine back up and running. It’s been sitting dormant for two years and people are dying. #cancerhttps://t.co/hgL15EL0yfpic.twitter.com/NL8iltMjVD— Natalie Whiting (@Nat_Whiting) January 20, 2019
Papua New Guinea Health Minister Sir Puka Temu has rejected claims that the nation's health system is in crisis. He did, however, admit to Australian news publication the ABC that the legislation has been unnecessarily slow to pass through Parliament.
"We've basically concluded those consultations and then we should be able to have the bill passed," he told the ABC. "We are addressing the cancer issue — it has been a difficult five years."
PNG gov knew over 5 yrs ago they had to pass legislation to be able to import radioactive compounds to continue doing cancer radiotherapy, the machine was shut down 2 yrs ago, & the legislation has still NOT been passed. #healthincrisishttps://t.co/WT1wZpU65n— Sofia Bartlett PhD (@SofiaRB_88) January 21, 2019
For doctors and nurses throughout the nation, the lack of a functioning radiation machine is making their jobs almost impossible.
"I tell my patients it's like being a gardener and being told to go to the garden, but they haven't given you a spade," Alfred Mel, a doctor at the Morobe Province Cancer Centre, told the ABC. "You know that you can plant the stuff and make it grow, but if you don't have the spade, who's going to break the soil?"
A lack of early diagnosis, a shortage of chemotherapy drugs, and the absence of a single radiation oncologist nationwide is only adding to the cancer catastrophe.
In 2018, 101 patients were unable to recieve any cancer care due to a lack of resources. With up to 40% of Papua New Guinea’s population living below the national poverty line and an average NET salary of $24,000, the majority of patients are unable to travel overseas to receive treatment.
"For 85% of the population, the absence of treatment in this country means that they will die,” Mel told the ABC. "That's the sad reality of it.”
There is, however, hope that things may soon improve for the nation's cancer patients.
The Morobe Province Cancer Centre will this year be upgraded with newer anti-cancer instruments thanks to a health partnership between the Australian Government and Papua New Guinea. According to Temu, a second cancer treatment centre will also be developed this year in Port Moresby.