Ongoing insecurity has required MSF to withdraw international staff from Papua New Guinea project

"In the past few weeks, there have been repeated security incidents including threats to our staff that we cannot tolerate,” said Monique Nagelkerke, head of mission for MSF in Papua New Guinea. “Medical staff must be safe to provide urgent lifesaving care and the authorities must do everything they can to ensure a safe working environment for all staff at the Tari General Hospital.”

On December 15, MSF had to withdraw international staff from the facilities because of serious security problems at Tari General Hospital. MSF felt it had no choice but to withdraw international staff to send the message that the hospital grounds needs to be a safe working environment for medical personnel and a safe recovery environment for patients. Authorities have promised to address these issues by repairing a security fence and firing guards but so far nothing has been done. Despite trying to assist in increasing security at the hospital, local police are unable to respond quickly because they lack resources. Until MSF sees a sign that security concerns will be addressed effectively, the organization says it is unable to work in Tari with its full international and national staff team.

MSF provides free comprehensive emergency surgical services as well as integrated medical and psychosocial care for survivors of sexual and family violence at the hospital.

In the past few weeks, there have been several security incidents including threats made to MSF staff, drunken men on hospital grounds threatening staff with bush knives (large machetes), and break-ins in different hospital departments. The nurses who work the nightshift have been afraid to travel outside the hospital grounds at night and now are even afraid inside the hospital.

Running a hospital requires keeping staff on call at all hours to respond to urgent cases and to follow up on patients recovering from surgeries. Hospital guards are often absent during the night and not disciplined for their actions or their failure to secure hospital grounds. The fence that surrounds the hospital has fallen down in places and despite assurances that money has been sent from Port Moresby to fix it, still remains a vulnerable gap in hospital security.

Despite repeated meetings with authorities in both Tari and the capital, Port Moresby, MSF has been unable to achieve more protection for its medical staff. Claire Chénot, MSF’s project coordinator based in Tari states “Medical staff cannot be expected to negotiate with drunken people who threaten our staff and our patients as we try to perform our duties.”

In 2009, MSF treated more than 4,500 patients at its facilities in Tari and has been running a women’s and children’s support centre in Lae. The support centre has served close to 5,000 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence since 2008. Recently, MSF has been assisting the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization in responding to an outbreak of cholera that has affected more than 1,300 people in three provinces since November 2009. MSF has been working in Papua New Guinea since 2007.