Global concerns are mounting as COVID-19 continues to sweep unprotected Papua New Guinea (PNG) where, according to the Our World in Data page, only 1.7 percent of those who have been vaccinated.
Vaccination remains low, despite adequate vaccination and support from the Australian government and international organizations such as Red Cross.
Slow adoption has been one aspect due to the negative publicity information and the amount of lies on social media via mobile phones.
“There are a lot of lies being spread, especially from television,” Jane Holden, chief of the Western Highlands Provincial Health Authority, told Al Jazeera.
Even misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine has plagued countries around the world – including Australia. anti-vaccination meetings – Holden says the main issue in Papua New Guinea is that there is a lack of information technology.
“People are more likely to use social media than it seems to be able to listen to the radio or read the newspapers or watch TV,” he said. “So, their phones are very important, and people are reading a lot of lies on their phones.”
Holden argues that the lie is not just a superstition, but a misunderstanding of how the vaccine works.
“People say ‘don’t get vaccinated because you can still get COVID, so why’.”
The diversity – which includes groups of more than 700 languages - poses many challenges for health care providers; not only mountainous terrain but a lack of reliable transportation systems and a lack of higher education and pre-existing problems, including HIV, tuberculosis and poor quality of life.
Holden told Al Jazeera that even though the area where his team operates has good roads “we have hard to reach places where we need to put expensive teams.
“Where we think we can cross the road, we find that sometimes we can’t get there so we need to get people to cross the rivers and then take another car from the other side and just keep going.”
“It is difficult to get to the villages or people living in the villages, of course, to reach us.”
In the small village of Kuntika, in the remote Western Highlands, community leader Eric Eribiang recently oversaw a vaccination campaign for 72 people.
He acknowledged that texting on television had helped to cast doubt on the vaccine.
“Now it’s a social network, people have internet,” he told Al Jazeera.
“As a result, there is a wide range of opinions and people who send the wrong vaccine. In fact, people are not getting the right information because of the lies.”
Such “publications” also include reports from Western countries that the vaccine is a public disease, as well as vaccination messages published by other church groups.
However, Eribiang says her role as prince and district leader is crucial in explaining the importance of vaccination.
“As a prince, I was able to influence and speak and lead the region,” he said.
Eribiang worked with the Western Highlands Health Service to provide vaccinations in Kuntika, and the project has helped keep COVID-19 out of the area of less than 1,000 people. About half of them are under the age of 18 and are not eligible for the vaccine in this country.
He argues that the key to helping to rely on vaccines and coronavirus training is to have the right people assigned to the task.
“Creating knowledge and educating people is an important task but at the same time you have to have the right people to do it,” he said.
“People who have power in the community and people who can respect them. It’s better than having someone from another place try to educate people.”
Former Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Ian Kemish, says the issue is part of a national budget of 9 million people.
Despite their wealth and resources, Human Rights Watch reports that 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas and 40 percent live in poverty experiencing problems such as domestic violence, and ethnic wars. Ancestor beliefs, including magic, remain deeply rooted.
The human rights group recognized in April 2020 – the beginning of the epidemic – that the country had only 500 doctors, fewer than 4,000 nurses and only 5,000 beds in hospitals and clinics.
“There has been a decline in funding by the PNG government in health over the long term,” Kemish said. “PNG is a country that has grown in numbers since independence in 1975 so that health care did not continue. As a result, the country is already lagging behind.”
Kemish adds that Papua New Guinea is following the trend around the world, while vaccination rates are low in countries where government action, and reliance on government, are low.
He says there is “a link between lower vaccination rates on the one hand and countries where trust in government or participation in government is much lower elsewhere.”
However, these conflicts are exacerbated in Papua New Guinea, where he said the government “does not really exist in the lives of the people.”
“People live far away. And yet, the people of Papua New Guinea have the opportunity to use Facebook phones, “he said.
Kemish is the chairman of the Kokoda Track Foundation, a charitable organization in Papua New Guinea.
The group recently worked with the UN children’s agency UNICEF and the Papua New Guinea Department of Health to vaccinate a small mountain town of Kokoda.
He said that the problems in mountainous areas and remote areas could be solved by vaccinating, “but you have to have people who are ready to be vaccinated.
“It’s not jabs that are needed, but weapons,” he said.
Medical care is also provided, with teams from the UK and Australia assisting staff at Holden in Mount Hagen.
However, Holden fears that people will just come to the front of the jab after the increase in COVID-19 deaths. The PNG says 415 people have died of the disease but are battling the spread of the virus that began last month.
“There is no doubt that people who die in rural areas appear to be the ones who help reduce the uncertainty of vaccinations,” he said.
Although the Ministry of Health in Papua New Guinea has not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment, its page contains information about COVID-19, epidemic and vaccine.
Holden and Eribiang say the information should be widely disseminated not only by television but also by people traveling to remote areas.
“We need to make sure people know where to go to get what they want,” Holden said.
“Each of us in the regions needs to focus more on delivering clear messages to the people and living in the villages so that we can talk to the people and talk to the people about what they have and try to bring reality.”
Regional leader Eribiang agrees that spreading the good news is important in preventing accidents.
“Awareness needs to be clear so people need to know about COVID and vaccines,” he said.
“Once they find the true story, they can decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated or not.”