The Burnet Institute community is deeply saddened to hear of the death of our close friend and colleague Dr Paison Dakulala. As one of the country’s leading health authorities for many years, Dr Dakulala played an enormous role in improving the health of the people of Papua New Guinea, and was an inspirational leader and teacher for many health care workers both in PNG and internationally.
It is no exaggeration to say that Dr Dakulala dedicated his life to serving his country; he was a servant to the nation in the truest sense. Despite his scholarly and administrative brilliance, he was a thoroughly humble, honourable and decent man, but also a fearless and passionate campaigner for improving the health of every Papua New Guinean, including those most marginalised and at risk. He worked tirelessly to address many of the health challenges faced by communities in PNG, especially women and children.
Dr Dakulala initiated and chaired the national emergency response task force for drug-resistant TB in 2014; an intractable issue facing the country’s most vulnerable. He would take the time to visit communities, listen to the needs of people and health care workers, and was an expert at convening partners around his central vision to improve the health of Papua New Guineans.
As PNG was preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary of independence from Australia in 2015, Dr Dakulala shared his hopes and confidence that the country’s many health challenges could be overcome, through effective partnerships. What he referred to as interdependence.
“I was a young man 40 years ago … standing at attention while the rain was drizzling down. And we saw the Australian flag go down for the last time. And many of us thought, what will happen? How can we go on and move on, you know, with the life that we had lived and enjoyed as a mandated territory, all those years ago. And many still believe that we have many challenges and difficulties.
On September 16 this year , we will celebrate 40 years. And you know what, on that day all flags will be up. And I don’t know what the feeling will be. But for me, it’ll be a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of ‘Yes, we can do it properly’. And we can do it.
There is that heart and desire and a soul for us to progress and make things happen. That’s what will happen. And we need partners that will enable us to reach where we want to go. Yes, TB is a huge issue … the maternal health issues, yes, they are challenging. Interdependence. Partners working together. Health is everyone’s business. We (PNG) will get there at our own pace. And the pace with all of us working together will get us there.”
Most recently, as the deputy head of the National Pandemic Response to COVID-19 he provided tremendous support and advice to the Government of PNG in the face of the pandemic.
His untimely death is a profound shock. Quite simply, not just in PNG but in any jurisdiction, Dr Dakulala will be greatly missed. PNG and all its close friends will deeply feel this loss for years to come. Our thoughts are with Judith and family and all those closest to him.
Vale Paison Dakulala.