A three-person ADF planning team has helped bolster the Papua New Guinea Government’s COVID-19 response.

They worked with the PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and local health authorities to increase vaccination rates.

After arriving in PNG in May as part of Operation PNG Assist, the team, comprising  operations, health and logistics planners, helped expand the vaccination rollout in a challenging environment. 

Contingent Commander Major Peter Southern said vital to the team’s deployment was the ADF’s partnership with the PNGDF.

“The complex environment in PNG means we had to work closely with many agencies, especially our partners in the PNGDF, to help coordinate and improve the vaccine rollout and encourage those in the Western Province to get vaccinated,” Major Southern said. 

 “Our defence-to-defence links are an enduring legacy that are very important.”

Logistician Captain Thomas Jones said the overall impact of the team’s work had been excellent.

“In Western Province we procured and delivered equipment to enable mobile vaccine teams to reach further into remote communities,” Captain Jones said.

“We have also assisted in providing helicopter support through the PNGDF to reach these locations, expedited the construction of a jetty and obtained resources to enable the village to build a new bridge, allowing for improved access.”

Embedded within the Western Province Health Authority Headquarters, health planner Captain Ronan Myyrylainen developed several tools that are being used extensively, including a vaccination tracker – a live document displaying real-time daily updates.

Before the team’s arrival, 1929 vaccinations had been administered across the area of operation. The figures have since skyrocketed to well over 6000 first doses and nearly 1000 second doses.

“We have seen the Western Provincial Health Authority grow in confidence to plan and deliver the vaccinations in Western Province,” Captain Jones said.

A new five-person triservice team rotated in this month. 

The contingent will continue efforts to increase vaccination rates in Western Province and also assist health authorities in Marobe Province, under the command of Navy Commander Matt Curnow.

“We look forward to working with the PNGDF and provincial health authorities to support the PNG Government’s COVID-19 response,” Commander Curnow said.  

Now back on Australian soil, Major Southern said one of the most rewarding parts of his deployment was knowing that their work saved lives.

“We helped bring the PNG Government’s vaccination message into remote communities, and seeing locals listen to the information and raise their sleeves to get the jab was very rewarding,” he said.  

Captain Jones echoed these sentiments, describing his time in PNG as enriching and personally satisfying.

“My previous operations have been war-like or peacekeeping roles,” Captain Jones said.

“I have been made to feel at home by the people of PNG, have made some great friends and contacts and have enjoyed the interaction with all the agencies we have partnered with on this mission.”