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Church Partnership Program (PNG)

COVID-19 cases are rising uncontrolled in Papua New Guinea, putting thousands of people at risk in remote areas without access to clean water or adequate health care. The outbreak has also exposed Australia’s north to a new wave of infection.

The Australian Government has responded to the emergency with a plan to immediately send 8,000 COVID-19 vaccines to PNG alongside an Australian Medical Assistance Team. The aim is to protect front line health workers, but the long-term race to vaccinate people in the provinces faces severe challenges.

“In the Highlands there are strong beliefs about witchcraft and people have traditionally used poisoned arrows and foods against others, so people are very suspicious of anything that is injected into the body,” says Bena Seta, who manages the community services projects of UCPNG.

“A focus on the book of Revelation and the apocalypse complicate people’s understanding of the pandemic, and there is also just not a great deal of awareness about modern medicine or the use of vaccines in general.”

Rumours about the vaccine have been running rampant in PNG, with some members of parliament supporting the idea that they are unsafe.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) have recognised the critical importance of working in partnership with PNG churches, who have reach and influence in areas where the virus is growing unchecked.

We have joined with other churches and are working urgently to talk with people about their fears and reassure them that the vaccine is safe,” Bena says. “We did the same with polio and measles vaccinations, and we had good success. We know how to make this work but we need the time and resources to do it.”

High rates of infection

Staggeringly high infection rates have been recorded. Of 91 people tested in a single day, 82 returned a positive test, leading Queensland to suspend flights to Cairns from Papua New Guinea. Movement in and out of communities in the mining industry could be driving the spike in infections, with workers transmitting not just within the country but also to North Queensland.

“We are not even sure how much community transmission there is because the rate of testing isn’t good,” says Bena, who waited five hours in a line for his test at the local hospital. “And isolating while you wait for a test result is very difficult for people in both the city and rural areas. What about work? What about food?”

UnitingWorld supports UCPNG to run a widespread behaviour change campaign to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across communities in PNG

Funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and UnitingWorld donors, UnitingWorld’s partner UCPNG has been offering practical training to health workers, trying to increase the number of sanitation stations in schools and going village to village to encourage social distancing, hand washing and the wearing of masks.

“To be honest we are very fearful – we have seen what can happen in even affluent countries with this disease,” Bena says.

“If this really spreads to rural areas, where there is not much access to clean water or health workers, things will be very very difficult. We know we need to act very quickly here.”

How you can help

You can support our ongoing work with UCPNG to provide critical public health advocacy on COVID-19 and vaccines; as well as clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) education and infrastructure in rural communities by making a donating today.

Please make your donation online at www.lentevent.com.au or call us on 1800 998 122

The United Church in PNG Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project and COVID-19 response activities are supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Frequent and proper hand hygiene is one of the most important measures to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks.

Our partners the United Church in Papua New Guinea (UCPNG) are working across 17 communities in Milne Bay province to run COVID-19 awareness sessions and installing handwashing stations with soap, instructional posters and steps so children can reach (see left of pic 1).

Supported by the Australian Government Disaster READY initiative, UCPNG and other PNG church partners will be helping support the immediate needs of almost 40,000 people.

The project also includes the training of community mobilisers/volunteers to drive community engagement activities, working in close coordination with local government authorities and community groups.

Thank you for your support!

Our partners will continue to serve their communities throughout this crisis and beyond.
Donate now to support their work: www.unitingworld.org.au/actnow

Biblical training continues to help unlock chains of oppression for women in Papua New Guinea, one of the toughest places on earth to be born female.

Many of you have heard about our gender theology work for women’s equality. Last month thirty-four men and women from all seven of the mainline church denominations in Papua New Guinea met together to continue to champion the cause. Each received intensive training in gender equality from the Bible and is passionate about influencing gender awareness and equality among individuals, churches and government.

“The participants were pastors, theologians and people who are voluntarily committed to social change,” says International Programs Manager, Aletia Dundas.

“They all come from different theological and doctrinal backgrounds, but they’re all committed to working from their Christian faith to respect the dignity and human rights of all.”

As is the case across much of the Pacific, women in Papua New Guinea experience high rates of domestic violence, have few opportunities to earn incomes and are seriously under-represented in politics. But PNG is also a deeply religious society, and churches are leading the way toward challenging cultural practices that hold women captive. Our partners are working to train leaders in the ‘Ten Pillars of Gender Equality’ using the Bible, casting the relationship between men and women in a transforming new light.

“Each day the workshop began with Bible Study, led twice by Rev Dr Afereti Uili from Samoa and once by a team from the PNG Anglican Church,” Aletia reports. “The group was incredibly open to discussing tough topics like household codes and how culture influences gender roles.”

Participants spoke of the ways they have sought to share gender equality theology in their work or church. One participant from the United Church in PNG described the challenges of not being taken seriously as a lay woman offering to lead a Bible study. Others shared about confidently responding to challenging questions with equally challenging answers.

Your gifts are helping support this vital work. The group in PNG will continue to meet together, encourage each other and learn so that more people can be trained to strengthen the voices and roles of women.

UnitingWorld’s Gender Equality Theology work in PNG is part of the Church Partnership Program and is supported by the Australian Government in partnership with the Government of Papua New Guinea.