News Release

Mormons Join Papua New Guinea Cholera Rescue Effort

Mormons in Papua New Guinea and other parts of the world are rallying in support of their fellow Church members and others reeling from a devastating cholera outbreak on the island of Daru and the nearby Fly River Delta.

Local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have reported 69 Church members have lost their lives to the disease. Hundreds of others — including Mormons and other residents — are being treated in the Daru Hospital and other make-shift facilities. Reports vary as to the total number of fatalities.

On behalf of the Church's Pacific Area Presidency, Elder Brent H. Nielson today issued the following statement:

"We express our deep love and concern for those members who have been affected by this epidemic. Our greatest desire is to provide care and assistance in every way possible. We want you to know that you are not alone. You have the love, prayers and resources of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as your greatest ally. We offer our sincere condolences to those who have lost family or friends. We express our gratitude to the Savior Jesus Christ for His sacrifice and for the knowledge that not only will we see again those who have passed on, but that we can be sealed together eternally as families. May that understanding bring us peace and understanding as we work together to bring relief to those who are suffering."

The Church and its members are working with AusAID, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization and other groups to care for the sick and educate communities.

Many locals are not fully aware of how the disease is spread, primarily through consumption of contaminated water and fish, according to Welfare Services Manager for the Church in the Pacific Area, Steve Stebbings. He says that the spread of the disease seems to be slowing down in Daru, but the movement of people from village to village is worsening the situation across the region.

Instructions on how to prevent a cholera infection are being distributed to families on Daru and in Fly River Delta villages. Local Church members are partnering with AusAid in this exercise.

A shipment of food from the Church in Port Moresby arrived in Daru on Wednesday (24 November). It included eight tons of rice, four tons of fish, four tons of flour, 1,000 cakes of anti-bacterial soap, and four tons of oil.

This week the Church's Salt Lake City Humanitarian Centre shipped 2,500 Seychelle water filter bottles to Port Moresby, due to arrive today. Once in Daru the bottles will be used to make stream and catchment water clean enough to drink.

Two Australian Latter-day Saint doctors, Dr Anthony Mahler (from Cairns) and Dr David Williams (from Brisbane) have been on the ground in Daru for several days. They have been to Isumo, Sogere, and other villages providing treatment and medicine to patients.

Dr. Williams was reportedly alarmed that some people coming in had not had anything to eat or drink, so fearful they were of contracting cholera. "Education about what food is safe to eat is imperative," he said. Dr. Williams also stressed the need to educate the people regarding the disease "repetitively and consistently for years to come."

A call has gone out to other doctors in Australia and New Zealand to assist the people of Daru and the surrounding region. The Church has offered to pay for their travel to and from Papua New Guinea.

Elder Dirk Smibert, an Area Seventy for the Church based in Queensland who visits Papua New Guinea regularly, said that "visiting cholera sufferers at the hospital and in the villages was very sobering."

"These people are in the most humbling of circumstances and totally reliant on the help of others. We were all greatly heartened by the Church's quick response when we raised the alarm. My initial phone call to Area Office resulted in a conference call with specialists within the Pacific and at Church headquarters. It was amazing how quickly the Church mobilized assistance."

Earlier this week the Church chartered a plane from Australia that transported Dr. Williams, Dr. Mahler and relief supplies directly from Cairns to Daru. The shipment included one ton of medical aid, 10,000 Aqua tabs, IV solution, catheters, zinc tablets, and ancillary equipment.

2,500 personal hygiene kits will be assembled in the coming days by Brisbane Latter-day Saints and shipped to Daru. Each kit will likely include food, a bottle of clean water, personal soap, laundry soap, a hand towel, a 10-20 litre collapsible container to collect and store water, zinc supplements, a water filter bottle, ORS sachet, and a flyer with instructions on how to avoid contracting cholera. 200 hygiene kits have already been assembled in Port Moresby and are being shipped to Daru.

Latter-day Saint leaders in Papua New Guinea and Australia are seeking for other ways for the Church to work closely with the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments on the response to this crisis.

Church leaders became aware of the cholera outbreak on 11 November. Shane Palmer, a Latter-day Saint based in Cairns, has been coordinating the Church's relief effort from Port Moresby.

There are currently no Latter-day Saint missionaries in the Daru region. The Church's Daru Chapel is on standby for possible use as an extension to the overflowing Daru Hospital.


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