On 18 March 2020, in response to the global coronavirus pandemic declared by the WHO on 11 March 2020*, and in consideration of advisories from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and other key advisors, YWAM Medical Ships (YWAM MS) made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend the MV YWAM PNG’s 2020 outreach schedule until further notice. This decision was weighed against many factors, including the growing restrictions being placed on international volunteers, who make up 70% of YWAM MS volunteer personnel. YWAM MS have considered restrictions on international travel for our volunteers, the risk of introducing a highly infectious pathogen to remote communities of Papua New Guinea (PNG) – where mobilising a response would be challenging, and restrictions on domestic travel within PNG due to the declared State of Emergency. Ultimately these risks were evaluated as significant enough to warrant the temporary suspension of the ship outreaches.
In light of this temporary suspension, YWAM MS made the decision to return the MV YWAM PNG to Australia to commence scheduled maintenance tasks and effectively prepare for its return to PNG. YWAM MS is proceeding with preparations and the development of new engagement opportunities to continue building capacity. YWAM MS’ operations are diverse and multifaceted through a number of initiatives. Notable engagement opportunities include, but are not limited to, training program development, a Port Moresby Training Campus, a Medical and Dental Trailer, and Small Medical and Training Ship Development.
Training Program Development
YWAM MS and YWAM Medical Ships Training (Australian Registered Training Organisation) are expanding their educational opportunities through field-led, online, virtual conferencing, cohorts, and classrooms for non-formalised and formalised training. The effective development of contextualised and culturally relevant training is essential for creating healthy communities and a healthy nation, which has been the basis for its collaborations with University of PNG, University of Goroka, Divine Word University, and cadets from the PNG Maritime College and Consort Express Lines. YWAM MS is actively developing avenues to strengthen its existing education, training, and professional development opportunities, and material. YWAM MS is exploring more opportunities for registered vocational training in a range of sectors, such as health, marine, hospitality, and management. YWAM MS supports and aligns with PNG’s desire for a “well educated, healthy, appropriately skilled, and honest workforce,”** and sees this as an important part of increasing the skill sets and capacity of its personnel – of both Papua New Guinean staff, and of Papua New Guineans more broadly.
Port Moresby Training Campus
After ten years of operations YWAM MS is in current negotiations for a training campus in Port Moresby for the facilitation of vocational training. This facility will also function as a fixed-base and forward operating location to facilitate stronger engagement in PNG. There is a recognised need for vocational education in PNG, particularly in Port Moresby where, in 2011, 90% of young people aged 15-24 were unemployed.***
Medical and Dental Trailer
YWAM MS acquired a near-new Medical and Dental Trailer at the end of 2019 and is actively working with the National Capital District Commission to develop a plan to bring the trailer into Port Moresby (2021) and provide dental services, training opportunities, and education in the district. YWAM MS is planning an awareness tour with this dental trailer around Australia to strengthen its international relationships, and build support with key partners to help meet the oral health needs in Port Moresby. With internal travel and border restrictions beginning to lift in Australia, it is hoped that these plans will progress quickly.
Small Medical and Training Ship Development
There is a great demand for more medical and training ships in isolated communities around the coastal provinces of PNG. Through ongoing operational evaluations of YWAM MS’ outreach activities, YWAM MS is actively pursuing opportunities to expand its medical and training ship engagement with the potential of utilising dedicated smaller vessels. YWAM MS assesses that this would increase the coverage and effectiveness of its engagement. Such smaller vessels would also provide greater training and skills development opportunities for young Papua New Guineans. YWAM MS is in current discussions to expand the fleet and is considering a number of options this year (2020). One such option is to utilise the MV YWAM PNG after dry dock to carry out adjusted medical outreaches and advanced pilot works for another vessel.
Considerations for redeployment of MV YWAM PNG
YWAM MS redeployment of the MV YWAM PNG to PNG will recommence after a number of considerations have been met in line with YWAM MS best practices and the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have eased:
- The conditions that triggered the temporary suspension of the outreach schedule, although diminishing, are currently still present; the risk of a second wave of infections as restrictions ease is of particular concern and consideration.
- Current international border and travel restrictions make meeting personnel requirements for effective outreach patrols extremely difficult, particularly considering that 70% of YWAM MS personnel are international volunteers from outside PNG. In addition to a scarcity of flights, long quarantine periods in PNG and, in most cases, on return to a home country – make travel impractical for many of these volunteers.
- The MV YWAM PNG is due to undertake a significant maintenance phase – a dry dock cycle and its 20-year survey this year, which is necessary for continued operations and safety. YWAM MS had planned for this to occur in PNG in May, but due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, key personnel were unable to attend the ship. YWAM MS is currently re-evaluating the dry dock and survey plan.
In light of the above, and in line with YWAM MS’ desire for increased activities and effective engagement. YWAM MS will continue to monitor and assess the impact of COVID-19 and adjust accordingly.
*Ghebreyesus, Dr Tedros; ‘WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19’; World Health Organisation, 11 March 2020; Accessed 14 May 2020 https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-sopening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—11-march-2020
**Government of Papua New Guinea (2010); Papua New Guinea Vision 2050; Port Moresby: National Strategic Plan Taskforce, pg 12
***3 World Bank (2019); Papua New Guinea Urban Youth Employment Project: 2018 Impact Evaluation and Results (English). Washington, D.C.; World Bank Group, pg 10