Human Rights Watch is calling on PNG's authorities to stop disinformation about Covid-19. As coronavirus takes its toll, a growing number of women are being accused of sorcery - at least five have been brutally attacked since March. In response, MAF Technologies PNG is raising vital awareness about the disease...
Campaigners are concerned that the rising attacks on Papua New Guinea's women are linked to the growing number of people falling ill or dying from coronavirus.
According to Human Rights Watch, since March, five women have been falsely accused of witchcraft and - as a direct result – have been badly hurt or killed.
In May, one woman from Komo-Margarima District in central PNG was tied up and burned alive.
In April, police rescued two women regarded as ‘witches’ from the capital, Port Moresby. They were tied up, attacked with knives and scalded with hot irons for hours by 20 men.
In March, a mother and her daughter were held responsible for her husband’s death, when in all probability he died of coronavirus. They were kidnapped and tortured by the husband’s relatives in Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province, until police managed to rescue them.
This latest trend is yet another form of gender-based violence, which is already prevalent in the country. Part of the problem is a severe lack of education about public health issues.
Plugging the knowledge gap
Rural communities in particular have limited access to reputable media outlets and accurate sources of information, so rumours are mistaken for facts.
In a bid to plug the knowledge gap within PNG’s rural communities, MAF Technologies PNG has teamed up with PNG’s Institute of Medical Research.
Earlier this month, two of their senior scientists, Dagwin Suarkia and Valentine Siba, delivered an informative presentation to MAF staff and hosted a Q&A about how to dispel harmful coronavirus myths, the latest information about the vaccine rollout, and how to address community confusion caused by mixed messages.
MAF Technologies PNG Manager, Bryan Mathews, praised the excellent work that the Institute has been doing to disseminate facts about the virus across the country:
‘The majority of our remote rural communities rely on us to share coronavirus information. We therefore need to be well informed ourselves, so that the information we relay to these people is correct and well founded. We appreciate this partnership and opportunity with PNG’s Institute of Medical Research.’
Bryan Mathews, Manager, MAF Technologies PNG
Broadcasting the facts
Every week, MAF Technologies PNG has also been broadcasting the latest coronavirus developments on its radio network followed by a Q&A with leading health professionals.
Recently, the following panel of medical experts were featured in a programme broadcast from Port Moresby:
Dr Sam Yockopua, Chief of Emergency Medicine at PNG’s National Department of Health
Dr Moses Laman, Head of Vector-borne Diseases Unit and Deputy Director of PNG’s Institute of Medical Research
Dr Samuel Maima, Medline Pacific
Prof John Vince, Deputy Dean at The School of Medicine and Health Sciences, PNG University
Professor Glen Mola, Head of Reproductive Health, Obstetrics and Gynaecology at The School of Medicine and Health Sciences, PNG University
Over 500 isolated communities across 12 provinces were reached including East and West Sepik, Morobe, Madang, Chimbu, Jiwaka, Hela, Enga, Gulf and Eastern, Southern and Western Highlands.
Questions about what coronavirus is, what causes it, where the variants come from, the vaccine rollout, safety of the vaccine and reaction to the jab are common.
The panel confirmed that regardless of the fast development of the AstraZeneca vaccine, it had been clinically tested and had already been rolled out across many countries.
They advised that any adverse reaction to the jab was highly unlikely and statistically, only four out of 500,000 people would have a negative reaction.
MAF has received ‘overwhelmingly positive’ feedback from various communities about the radio broadcasts.
Social media partly to blame
A huge source of misinformation about the virus amongst PNG’s youth is spawned by social media. MAF Technologies PNG are therefore facilitating a series of ‘Tech Talks’ to bust coronavirus myths and to disprove harmful conspiracy theories.
Last month, Caine Ruruk - Learning Facilitator at MAF Technologies PNG, addressed youth from Goroka University, Goroka Business College, Goroka Secondary School, Goroka Nursing College, Don Bosco Four Mile Technical School and the Evangelical Brotherhood Church.
The top ten common myths circulating online amongst PNG’s youth are as follows:
'Coronavirus is a hoax.
Coronavirus is just another type of flu.
Homemade remedies like lemon and honey tea, certain herbs, breathing in steam and a good diet will protect you against the disease.
God will protect you, so just relax.
Coronavirus is a foreign man-made disease, so keeping foreigners out of PNG will keep us safe.
Coronavirus is not as serious as HIV, TB and Malaria, so we should just focus on the ‘serious’ health issues.
The vaccine is not safe.
The people of PNG are ‘guinea pigs’ for the vaccine.
The vaccine is not necessary.
The vaccine is not effective.'
Young people are ‘agents of change’
Caine is convinced that providing accurate information about coronavirus to young Christians, is an effective way of circulating facts amongst their peers:
‘We play a major role in informing our remote communities via these awareness talks. Young, committed Christians who are active members of their church are people who have the potential to share what they hear with others. They are agents of change amongst their peers, churches and community.’
‘Our prayer is that younger generations will be better informed and that we will be able to continue to educate them through our Tech Talks. We thank the Lord for these opportunities with churches and ministry organisations so that younger generations are protected.’
Information is power
In another joint initiative, MAF has joined forces with The Melanesia Education Development Foundation who have produced thousands of Covid-19 vaccination booklets in both Tok Pisin and English.
In July, MAF distributed 500kg of these booklets - endorsed by PNG's Institute of Medical Research - to Public Health Authorities across the Highlands.
MAF is committed to ensuring that PNG's rural communities are informed about the latest coronavirus developments.
During these challenging times, we pray that wisdom from God will guide the hearts of these people so that they are able to discern what is and isn’t true.