By: Telbakes Yano

As Palau faces uncertain times with the threat of COVID-19, Senator Dr. Stevenson Kurtei voiced several challenges facing the nation’s frontliners in the coming months during his presentation at the PACMAS workshop last week.

As one of Palau’s few doctors, Dr. Kuartei has experience combating 2 pandemics in the past, one of which was Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in the early 2000’s, and the other Swine Flu in 2009.

Out of all the challenges of fighting a pandemic in Palau, at the top of the list is lack of organization and medical resources, said Dr. Kuartei in his presentation, which was given at Elilai Seaside.

“The reason why we are disorganized is because we are disoriented when it comes to using data to make decisions,” the doctor said. “We are still disoriented in planning, implementation, and assessment. In health care that is not correct. We should be using guidelines.”

After consulting the Ministry of Health, he learned that Palau has 10,000 PPE’s (Personal Protective Equipment) and 200 PPE’s are used for a single PUI (Person Under Investigation). This means that Palau has the capacity to test 50 cases of COVID. “The spreadability of COVID is exponential,” he said. “If it comes to this island, we will see many more than 50 people infected.”

Another important resource which Palau lacks is respiratory expertise, according to Dr. Kuartei. As the virus attacks the respiratory tract, Kuartei said that effectively fighting a pandemic would take pulmonologists — respiratory experts — which Palau doesn’t have.

“We can’t have blurriness of functions,” he said. “Health and disease are two different fields of study and no one can be in charge of both.”

In addition to this lack of resources, the doctor brought up two other surprising challenges facing Palau’s fight against the pandemic: political views and “Palauanism”.

“Even though we present facts, the facts get pushed aside and then our political feelings come out,” he said. He emphasized that nothing should override established facts. He made a similar point about “Palauanism”. Omelengmes (respect) and being called “kedidai a rengum” (stubborn) when being honest are two things which the doctor believes obstruct professionalism.

As a way to move forward, Kuartei suggested that Palau redesign its system through prioritizing resources by medical needs and using risk management strategies to override political or “Palauanist” motivations.

Some opponents disagree and believe that, although low on resources, the Ministry of Health is doing its best with what it has to establish a procedure and prepare for the virus.

Kuartei’s presentation came just a week before medical professionals across the globe have had major breakthroughs in COVID treatment.

Still, prospects of an available vaccine are a long way off, and Dr. Kuartei thinks that Palau has a long way to go before it is ready to fight a COVID outbreak.

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