Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country known for its natural beauty, from Mount Wilhelm, the highest mountain in the country, to the cuscus, a marsupial that roams its rainforests. When it comes to its people, the government has made strides to improve life expectancy with life expectancy at birth totaling 64 years as of 2017 compared to only 39 years in 1960. Still, life expectancy in Papua New Guinea falls far below the global average of 72 years.
Here is a look at the factors that influence life expectancy in the country as well as efforts to further improve longevity in PNG.
Country Cooperation Strategy
The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Country Cooperation Strategy (CCS) in 2016 to improve health facilities and access to health care in a country that is mainly rural. The CCS aims to tackle many issues that are standing in the way of attaining sustainable health outcomes for PNG citizens:
- User fees: User fees refer to the cost of medical services, drugs and entrance fees when seeing a health care provider. In countries where the majority of the population lives in poverty, user fees serve as barriers to health care services for those who may need it the most. One of the goals of the CCS is to eliminate these fees so that that the poor will have equal access to services that are essential for good health.
- Vaccinations: Better access to vaccinations is another way the CCS plans to ensure that the life expectancy in Papua New Guinea increases. To that end, the country’s National Department of Health, in coordination with the WHO and UNICEF started a three-week campaign in June 2019 with the goal of vaccinating 1 million children against measles-rubella and polio. As Prime Minister Marape stressed in an address to parents at the launch: “We must make Papua New Guinea polio-free again.”
- Newborn and Maternal Health: PNG has one of the highest mortality rates in the world. The main cause of mortality in mothers is exposure to infections and high blood pressure, which can interfere with kidney and liver function and also cause anemia. Infant mortality is mainly caused by infection and asphyxia. By providing more supervision during deliveries and by promoting community-based support through non-governmental organizations, the CCS plans to change this. Care for mothers and newborns will be addressed in the CCS with a focus on support for mothers before, during and after birth.
- Health Care Providers: A lack of health care providers is a large problem affecting life expectancy in Papua New Guinea because there are not enough doctors to care for the sick people in the country. In 2009, there were only 330 doctors nationwide for a country of 8 million. The CCS plans to work with the government to increase access to education and create better facilities for learning for those who wish to pursue careers in the medical field, therefore increasing the number of doctors.
Other Factors Affecting Life Expectancy in PNG
Natural Disasters: PNG is in an area that is susceptible to natural disasters and the CCS plans on implementing new strategies for dealing with these kinds of events when they occur. After a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in PNG in 2018, the death toll was estimated to be 145 and about 270,000 people needed aid. Be it a volcanic eruption, earthquake or drought, the CCS wants to make sure that the people of PNG are ready for these disasters when they inevitably occur. More surveillance of these natural occurrences and emergency planning is necessary to make sure the country is secure in case of a natural disaster.
Tuberculosis: Protection against epidemics is another issue affecting the life expectancy in Papua New Guinea, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) being two of the most pressing. In 2017, there were 27,935 cases of tuberculosis. The WHO plans to investigate the causes of outbreaks by identifying TB early on and reducing the transmission of the disease. The WHO also plans to strengthen training programs that deal with treating conditions like these.
– Joslin Hughson and Kim Thelwell