Life expectancy in Papua New Guinea

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
Photo: Pixabay

Technology to promote literacy

Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an independent state comprised of about 600 small islands, that also shares a land border with Indonesia. PNG uses technology to promote literacy in a number of ways. PNG broke off from Australia in 1975 but still receives substantial economic, geographical and educational gains from the country. However, the Australian government reports that in spite of their economic growth and middle-income country status (due to agricultural and mineral wealth), “PNG’s social indicators are among the worst in the Asia Pacific. Approximately 85 percent of PNG’s mainly rural population is poor and an estimated 18 percent of people are extremely poor.”

The World Bank details that PNG also faces a “vexing” situation regarding their remoteness and number of languages. Communities in PNG are very closed off from one another and land travel is strenuous. PNG has 563 airports and air travel has proven to be the common way to get from one place to another. At over 800 languages, PNG is recognized as “the most linguistically diverse country in the world.” As a result of these two factors, PNG’s education system faces a variety of challenges. PNG was ranked 153 on the Human Development Index in 2017, and its adult literacy rate was reported to be 63.4 percent in 2015. Australian Aid and the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) cooperated to produce The SMS Story research project, a way to use technology to promote literacy.

The goal of the SMS Story Research Project was to ascertain whether daily text message stories and lessons would improve the reading ability of children in grades 1 and 2 in Papua New Guinea. The text messages were sent to elementary school teachers in the Madang Province and Simbu Province using a free, open-source software program called Frontline SMS. The project was a controlled trial with two groups, one group of teachers received the message and the other did not. About 2500 students were evaluated before and after the trial. Using statistical testing, it was determined that the reading ability of the group who received text messages was higher than that of the group that did not.

It was found that the schools participating in the study had little to no reading books in the classroom and that students in groups without an SMS story were “twice as likely to be unable to read a single word of three sub-tests (decodable words, sight words and oral reading).” It seemed that many classrooms in PNG did not provide easy access to reading materials or proper reading lessons.

Amanda Watson, a researcher involved with the project stated that the SMS stories were helpful to the teachers as well. She says, “The teachers actually received almost like a reminder to teach, a bit of a motivator to keep teaching and they received that every single day and we think that really helped them to realize that they’re supposed to be teaching reading every single day, five days a week.” This suggests that before the trial, some of the teachers may not have promoted reading as much as they should have, either due to lack of access to materials or not realizing its importance.

Daniel A. Wagner, of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues, detail the importance of using technology to promote literacy in countries with minimal access to education or educational materials in their paper, “Mobiles for Literacy in Developing Countries: An Effectiveness Framework”. He underlines the importance of promoting literacy through information and communications technologies (ICTs) in today’s world where there are “more connected mobile devices than people” and provides several examples of organizations that are working towards increasing literacy through ICTs.

The Bridges to the Future Initiative (BFI) is run in South Africa by the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy. They aim to “improve literacy through interactive, computer-based lessons” created by the University of Pennsylvania’s International Literacy Institute (ILI). They provide access to educational materials and issue students with “mother-tongue resources” in regions where computer sources or books are mostly in English. Comparably, Ustad Mobile is an application in Afghanistan that runs offline on phones. They center around instructing reading comprehension, listening, and numeracy. Teachers and students can download and share lessons; the app also includes exercises, videos and interactive quizzes in order to “mobilize education for all”.

BBC Janala is another project using technology to promote literacy in Bangladesh. It is a multi-platform service and can be accessed through TV, internet, print and mobile phones. BBC Janala concentrates on teaching English through three-minute audio lessons, quizzes, TV shows, newspapers, textbooks and CDs.

Illiteracy is an issue in Papua New Guinea; most likely due to the lack of reading materials and importance placed on literacy. However projects like, “The SMS Story” are all over the world and are working towards using technology to promote literacy one step at a time.

Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr

vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea

Across the globe, access to adequate healthcare appears to be of paramount concern for both governmental and non-governmental organizations. Not only does providing health services to underserved and under-represented populations increase general wellbeing and happiness, it has also proven to be beneficial for the economy, per the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Pushing for Vaccinations

In February, the southeast Asian nation of Papua New Guinea declared 2019 as “The Year of Immunization,” in an effort to stave off preventable diseases and promote healthier lifestyles. This push to increase vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea was further intensified following several polio outbreaks across the country in Summer and late 2018 as well as in early 2019, and outbreaks of measles in 2014 and 2015 with 2,000 total confirmed cases and over 350 deaths. This recent resurgence in the near-eradicated virus can be attributed to sub-optimal living conditions and lack of wide-spread, generalized immunization.

Furthermore, the efforts to increase vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea would hopefully spur the economy, lifting more citizens out of poverty (as of 2002, 37 percent of New Guinea’s population lived below the global poverty line – approximately 2.5 million people), though this economic boost would act primarily as an added bonus to preventing polio, rubella and measles.

Widescale immunization quickly became a top priority for the government and National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea. While initially a daunting task, the southeast Asian nation partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and other non-profit organizations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in order to better coordinate these immunization campaigns.

According to UNICEF, one of the polio campaigns sought to immunize over three million children up to the age of 15-years-old. As of late July 2019, these campaigns have been deemed as successful by the government, significantly increasing vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea. Since February, Papua New Guinea’s National Department of Health, along with the WHO, and UNICEF have led eight successful immunization campaigns, vaccinating approximately 1.28 million children under the age of five for polio, in addition to just over one million children of the same age for rubella and measles.

Cooperation Among Organizations

The success of these campaigns can be traced to swift action and cooperation between the primarily players. The WHO estimates that over 12,000 workers (from vaccination specialists, mobilizers and surveillance officers) helped to orchestrate these movements across the country – movements, which according to The Papua New Guinea National Department of Health, have had a 95 percent success rate.

While these increased vaccination rates in Papua New Guinea are positive signs for the future of the country’s health promotion and disease prevention, it is important to note that Papua New Guinea was declared as polio free in 2000 and went 18 years without a confirmed case of polio. It is essential that Papua New Guinea continue these immunization campaigns in order to guarantee healthier lifestyles for the rest of 2019 and into the future.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in Papua New Guinea

With hundreds of ethnic groups indigenous to Papua New Guinea, the nation is made up of predominantly rural villages with their own languages. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Papua New Guinea gives an insight into what life in these communities is like.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Papua New Guinea

  1. Papua New Guinea’s vast natural resources are being threatened. While 80 percent of Papua New Guinea is covered in forest, the resources are predicted to be used up in a generation, possibly just a decade. Home to what conservationists call “the last rainforest,” Papua New Guinea is home to massive resources loggers are rushing to exploit due to it being one of the last nations to legally permit the exportation of raw logs. As Vincent Mutumuto, a local of rural Papua New Guinea told the Gazette, the foreign logging is destroying many tiny farms such as his banana tree and watermelon farm, which brings in his family of 16’s only income. While loggers are thriving on the nation’s resources, Papuans and the economy of their nation are suffering from it.
  2. Papua New Guinea has failed to meet the Millennium Development Goals. With an average life expectancy of 62.9 years, the nation is ranked 157 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index. Healthcare, water and sanitation, civil unrest and education are all behind this statistic. The nation is one of only a handful to not reach these goals.
  3. Tuberculosis incidences are highest in the region. Humid air and weak immune systems due to malnutrition allow the disease to stay strong. While much of the world sees tuberculosis as a thing of the past, it remains one of the most infectious killers in Papua New Guinea. The region of Daru Island in the country has been called by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “global hotspot” for drug-resistant tuberculosis. The World Bank has contributed $15 million in the form of aid in screenings and programs diagnosing and treating the disease. Results of this multi-nation effort have proved positive thus far, and the programs are seeing expansion.
  4. Vaccinations aren’t accessible. For the population of 8.25 million, vaccinations must be helicoptered into the remote areas many locals live, if they are available at all. The World Health Organization has been sending aid to the authority on vaccinations in Papua New Guinea, the 1981-born Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in the form of cleaner injections, safer waste disposal, accessible screening processes and setting up effective domestic production. Additionally, the WHO sent a score of important immunizations, such as those for maternal and neonatal tetanus, measles and hepatitis B.
  5. Water is a luxury. Many towns across Papua New Guinea have no central water supply system. Children must travel long distances to lug jugs back to their families. According to data from the World Bank, Papua New Guinea’s increase in accessible drinking water increased by an insignificant six percent while its overall sanitation index decreased by one percent, and that overall Papua New Guinea has the lowest water and sanitation access indicators among the 15 developing Pacific Island nations. Furthermore, the lack of water is impacting children’s education. As one teacher explained to World Bank, “I have seen that the problem of water is a major problem that affects many of our students in learning especially during the dry season.” Students are sent home early (around 12 p.m.) in order to help their parents gather water. During the dry season, students often miss school for days at a time.
  6. Violence is a side effect of poverty. Physical and sexual abuse are common in Papua New Guinea, and many occurrences committed by the police themselves. According to Human Rights Watch, police beat 74 men and slashed their ankles after a street brawl in the capital of Port Moresby this past May.
  7. Papua New Guinea is living in the dark. Only 20 percent of the nation’s population had access to electricity as of 2017. While PNG Power Ltd, the company running the nation’s electricity, is working with rural communities to provide power, development is still necessary.
  8. Businesses are improving. Rural wellbeing is being raised by a ‘bottom-up’ approach. This entails private sector involvement in isolated villages, focusing on improving family businesses such as local farms where the majority of citizens make their livelihood. This is not only generating entrepreneurship but also improving living conditions for the communities. Roberta Morlin is leading the trend of young entrepreneurs in Papua New Guinea. She said, “When I first started in 2015, I had 30 different ideas and I had to validate (reduce) those ideas down to 15. I had to further validate over the next 15 months down to four, which I am currently working on.”
  9. Papua New Guinea is experiencing economic growth. With abundant national reserves and improving family businesses, Papua New Guinea has experienced 14 years in a row of positive GDP growth. Between 2003 and 2015, the nation’s economy grew and proved that with the right involvement the country can develop further.
  10. People are migrating to Papua New Guinea. A new trend for Australians to move to the country is bringing Papua New Guinea hope. According to People Connexion, the decision is due to the slower pace of living and sense of community present there. This new trend to move and work in Papua New Guinea could hopefully greatly boost their economy.

As Papua New Guinea strives to meet future Millennium Development Goals, there must be an improvement in the economy, education and healthcare. Attention must be focused on locals, preserving natural resources, and helping improve productivity within small businesses in order to improve overall living conditions in Papua New Guinea.

– Maura Byrne
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Girls' Education in Papua New Guinea

While primary school enrollment rates in Papua New Guinea are low for girls and boys, there is a significant disparity between the two. Several factors contribute to the worse girls’ education in Papua New Guinea, some of which governments and organizations are working to change.

Factors Contributing to Gender Inequality

  • Political Factors – Women’s social status in Papua New Guinea is below men’s, limiting female positions of leadership. To combat some of this inequality, the country attempted to create legislation that would reserve seats for women, but it was defeated in parliament. As a result of this, initiatives to promote gender equality often have difficulty in receiving funding.
  • Economic Factors – School fees dissuade parents from enrolling their daughters, as they feel it is more beneficial to enroll their sons. Although, many boys do not receive an education as well: about 64 percent of boys and 57 percent of girls attend primary school. Hunger also contributes, as starving students are less likely to attend school. In urban areas, food shortages are common because of less gardening land. Malnourished children often develop illnesses, also causing them to miss school. Additionally, a lack of appropriate water and sanitation facilities negatively impacts girls’ education in Papua New Guinea. They are often not private enough, and sometimes there isn’t even running water. Once girls reach puberty, they often leave school because they cannot maintain menstrual hygiene at school.
  • Social and Cultural Factors – Girls do not enroll in school because they are required to take care of their younger siblings while their parents work. Child marriage also contributes to poor girls’ education in Papua New Guinea. Married girls do not continue to attend school, and approximately 22 percent of girls in Papua New Guinea get married before the age of 18.

Safety is another serious concern for girls. Gender-based violence and harassment are prevalent in schools. Just under 50 percent of girls reported feeling safe at school, with 31 percent feeling unsafe. These feelings were strongest near toilets, sports fields and school gates, with only 2 percent of girls feeling safe around toilets.

Girls are harassed by male students and teachers, thereby afraid of physical and sexual assault. The high number of male teachers contributes to low enrollment rates, with male teachers out-numbering female teachers in primary schools. While the number of female teachers doubled between 2002 and 2012, there is still a significant lack of them.

Efforts to Decrease Gender Inequality in Education

World Vision launched a project targeting girls’ education in Papua New Guinea. They established community learning centers (CLCs), which provide early childhood care for girls and boys between three and six. Education improvement classes for children under 14 are also offered. The goal is to make it easier for children to succeed in school, as well as encourage parents to take a more active role in the children’s education. Between 2014 and 2017, approximately 6000 children attended classes at CLCs and 4o00 people were involved in community awareness efforts. After attending CLCs, 90 percent of children were prepared to begin primary school, significantly higher than the baseline of 80 percent.

The National Education Plan (NEP), developed in 2015, is also aiming to improve education, with a focus on gender equality. In their most recent $7.4 million grant, their goal is to better student achievement in math and science by improving pre-service and in-service teacher education, especially for women, and increasing access to textbooks.

Notable Progress

Due to these projects being implemented, some advancements have been made. A study by the National Research Institute found that the number of girls enrolled in school increased by almost 150 percent between 2001 and 2012. Additionally, primary school completion rates for girls rose by approximately 5 percent between 2014 and 2016.

While there is still a long way to go, Papua New Guinea has begun to decrease the differences between male and female education.

– Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Girls' Education in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG) encompasses the eastern half of New Guinea and its offshore islands, sharing the globe’s second-largest island with Papua and West Papua. The country supports a diverse populace and variety of languages; 8.2 million Papua New Guineans speak 820 distinct languages, giving rise to various local communities and rich cultural histories. But PNG faces a number of challenges including stifling economic conditions and persisting gender inequalities. These two factors, along with others, contribute to low rates of girls’ education in Papua New Guinea.

The Gender Gap

Only 73 percent of primary school-aged and 30 percent of secondary-aged girls attend school in PNG. One can understand these strikingly low numbers in light of the country’s broader educational context; many schools lack quality equipment and while very few teachers receive adequate training, almost all manage overstuffed classrooms, according to Professor Ravinder Rena of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology. As a result, total net enrollment rates for primary and secondary school sit at 76 percent and 33 percent.

Still, Papua New Guinean boys are much more likely to enroll in school than their female counterparts. According to the U.N.’s Gender Parity Index, PNG’s most recent ratio of girls to boys in school was .91 for primary education and .76 for secondary education. This gender gap undermines Papua New Guinean girls’ access to crucial literacy, numeracy and social skills. In turn, the bulk of the country’s economic opportunities, especially in the formal sector, go to men.

Reasons for the Gap

For PNG women, economic disparities exacerbate other debilitating gender inequities. Tragically, a majority of PNG women fall victim to rape or sexual assault during their lifetime and the country’s police forces neglect most of their cases. Moreover, traditional, gender-based expectations often mean scant autonomy for females in PNG, where almost a quarter of all girls marry before the age of 18.

This subjugation of women directly relates to girls’ education in Papua New Guinea. As Carolyn Benson, Professor of International and Comparative Education at Columbia University, argues, “The need to move away from home to enroll in schools partially explains lagging rates of female enrollment, as many families fear their female children will become more vulnerable to sexual assault by moving away.”

The need to be at school, in the midst of potentially predatory teachers and male classmates, discourages families from allowing female children to pursue an education. Finally, norms encouraging and/or enforcing early marriage lead to the rigidification of traditional views that disvalue female education. Thus, girls’ education in Papua New Guinea is caught in a vicious cycle since the gap between female and male rates of enrollment contributes to the continuation of oppressive gender relations, which in turn makes the task of getting girls in school even more difficult.

The Solutions on the Table

Many are challenging this vicious cycle. Indeed, girls’ education in Papua New Guinea is a central focus in a number of recent policy initiatives.

One example is the PNG government’s decision to join the United Nations’ campaign to end violence in schools. In so doing, the PNG government will raise awareness around violence against its school attendees and encourage schools to take protective measures. If adequately resourced, these measures may make families feel better about sending their girls to school.

Another initiative is the PNG government’s comprehensive National Education Plan (NEP), which passed in 2015. The NEP has six major goals, including the improvement of teaching quality and the strengthening of local school systems. If the government reaches the former goal, it will probably experience an uptick in overall school enrollment. If it reaches the latter, female enrollment rates will likely receive a special boost, since local schools represent a safer choice for PNG families choosing where to send their daughters. The most exciting feature of the NEP is that gender equality is a cross-cutting theme throughout, meaning that the NEP will implement gender equality into each of its six goals.

Evidence suggests that rates of girls’ education in Papua New Guinea will continue to rise considering that the net rate of female primary enrollment rose six points from 2012 to 2016. If the government’s recent policies are successful and if international organizations continue to help along the way, those rising rates of enrollment will be met with better, safer schools. Thanks to the help of many, the path to gender equality in Papua New Guinea is finally coming into view and it starts with girls’ education.

– James Delegal
Photo: Flickr

Immigration in Australia
Australia welcomed 208,000 immigrants in 2017, most of whom came from India, China and the U.K. This number was significantly higher than the 85,000 in 1996. Australia’s openness to accepting immigrants can be traced back to when prime minister John Howard was first elected in 1996. Howard emphasized accepting skilled migrants, rather than family migrants as a way to boost the economy. The number of permanent migrants from India was 3,000 in 1996 and 40,000 by 2013. The ration of family migrants to skilled migrants has now been reversed to where two-thirds of Australia’s immigrants are skilled migrants and only one-third are family migrants. Immigration in Australia is changing, and here are some reasons why.

The “Pacific Solution”

In 2001, John Howard implemented an immigration policy known as the “Pacific Solution.” The new immigration policy changed the requirements about where a noncitizen could apply for Australian protection. Previously, one could apply from any of Australia’s migration zone, which is comprised of thousands of islands off the coast of Australia. Under the change, Australia had made it so only people who reached the mainland could claim asylum. Australia’s navy was also given the power to stop migrant boats in the ocean, and the country officially started offshore migrant-processing camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG).

In 2013, under the new Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Australia extended the “Pacific Solution” to include the mainland, which basically meant migrants could be sent to the offshore detention facilities regardless of where their ships landed. Until then, those who reached mainland Australia could not legally be sent to Nauru or PNG. Now, asylum-seekers are held in the camps while their claims are processed. Even if they are found to have valid asylum claim, they are not allowed to settle in Australia. Instead, they may settle on Nauru or PNG. Australia even paid Cambodia $42 million to take four asylum-seekers.

Further Restrictions in Immigration

This immigration policy has had its critics, with some organizations claiming that the policy violates human rights. Howard claimed that the program protects Australia from the continuous number of boats and ships trying to land in the country.  However, Australia did grant 13,800 visas between 2013 and 2014 to Syrian refugee who had legally applied through its Humanitarian Programme, so the country is clearly open to housing refugees who enter the country legally. In 2017, Australia had received 35,170 new requests for asylum, with most refugees coming from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

In March of 2018, the 457 visas were replaced by the Temporary Skilled Shortage (TSS) visa. The number of primary visas granted for sponsored workers had decreased by 35 percent from July to September in 2017 compared to the same time frame in 2016. This can be attributed to the fact that the employers wanting to sponsor a 457 worker declined, resulting in a one-third reduction in available jobs.

This new policy will also require workers to have two years work experience to be eligible. Jobs deemed to fall under the Medium or Long-Term Strategic Skills list will give workers a four-year, renewable visa with a pathway to citizenship. However, jobs that fall under the Short-Term Skilled Occupation list will be restricted to a two-year, once refundable visa with no pathway to permanent residency.

Clearly, immigration in Australia is changing. It is unclear to what extent Australia will benefit or suffer from these newly implemented restrictions. One thing is for sure, immigrants seeking asylum are going to have a harder time finding it in Australia.

Casey Geier
Photo: Flickr

Australia Pledges $10 Million to Fight Polio in Papua New Guinea
Recently, the Australian government pledged $10 million to fight polio in Papua New Guinea. Australia’s contribution will go towards preventing the spread of infectious diseases and expanding the reach of vaccination campaigns. Earlier this year, the first case of polio since 2000 arose in Papua New Guinea. The government has declared the polio outbreak a national public health emergency. Since Australia is Papua New Guinea’s closest neighbor, the polio outbreak is a health threat to both countries. This shared interest spurred Australia’s decision to help contain Papua New Guinea’s polio outbreak.

Polio Around the World

Poliomyelitis, or more commonly known as polio, primarily targets children under the age of five. Polio is caused by a virus, which spreads primarily through contact between people. Though the first symptoms are relatively mild, as the infection spreads through the nervous system, it can lead to paralysis, which is the case in one out of every 200 infections. While there is no cure for polio, the disease is entirely preventable. If children receive the polio vaccine for the recommended amount of times, they can become immune to the virus.

Though the global incidences of polio have fallen by more than 99 percent since 1988, polio is still a public health threat to children around the world. According to The World Health Organization, if even one child still has polio, children in every country are at risk for contracting it. Unless polio is completely eradicated, there could be nearly 200,000 new cases of polio worldwide each year over the next 10 years. Because of polio’s highly infectious nature and the great health risks it brings, the international community must focus on vaccinating children worldwide.

An Outbreak of Polio in Papua New Guinea

For the past 18 years, Papua New Guinea was polio-free. Unfortunately, in April 2018, a young boy in Papua New Guinea’s northern region surfaced with symptoms consistent with polio, including lower limb paralysis. The following month, doctors diagnosed the boy with a vaccine-derived poliovirus type one. The single case worsened shortly afterward when stool samples from two children in the same neighborhood displayed the same strain of polio. The National Department of Health of Papua New Guinea and The World Health Organization both confirmed the diagnosis and Papua New Guinea’s polio outbreak.

In the Morobe province, where the first case emerged, only 60 percent of the children had received the approved three-dose polio vaccination cycle. Lack of proper sanitation and clean water also increased the risk of polio contagion in the area since the virus can spread through contaminated food or water. Immediately following the outbreak’s announcement, The National Department of Health, along with the World Health Organization and the Global Polio Eradication, introduced a large-scale immunization campaign.

Papua New Guinea’s Health Secretary, Pascoe Kase, underlined the importance of this vaccination campaign, saying the “immediate priority is to respond and prevent more children from being infected.” Moving forward, Papua New Guinea will work in conjunction with The World Health Organization to continue investigating the outbreak and enhancing the response efforts.

Fighting Polio in Papua New Guinea

Alongside other donors, such as The U.S., Canada and Papua New Guinea’s government, the Australian government hopes its $10 million donation will curb the current polio outbreak as well as prevent future infectious diseases. All these donations will benefit the country’s emergency vaccination campaign, totaling $21 million. The campaign hopes to vaccinate more than 3.3 million children in the country, with a special focus on children in densely populated areas.

With the donations from Australia, as well as other countries and organizations, the government of Papua New Guinea has enough funding to cover nearly all of the vaccination expenses. Dr. Mills in Euga province, who is also the president of The Society of Rural and Remote Health, remains hopeful that vaccination efforts will eradicate polio in Papua New Guinea once again.

In recent years, funding for immunizations had dropped, leaving many children vulnerable to polio. As he put it, “let’s hope [the outbreak] provides the impetus to refocus our attention on these basic things,” such as consistent vaccinations programs. He emphasizes that to prevent future polio outbreaks, methods of prevention and intervention must be a priority for Papua New Guinea.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr

Media Misrepresents Papua New Guinea
Western media often sensationalizes the unknown, and the country of Papua New Guinea – just over 90 miles north of Australia – has undoubtedly fallen victim of media sensationalism and stereotyping. The media misrepresents Papua New Guinea as a country with no development, little civilization and stereotypes the entire country as primitive and poor.

While a majority of the country is rural, Papua New Guinea is a developing economy with a steadily growing urban population, and the diverse population of the country is working to create a different image of Papua New Guinea in Western media.

Economic Growth

The economy of Papua New Guinea is heavily dependent on industry, mining and agriculture, notably timber, fish, coffee, cocoa and rubber. Agriculture currently accounts for 25 percent of GDP and supports more than 80 percent of the population. The media often disregards Papua New Guinea as a country with extremely little economic growth.

However, this is a misrepresentation of the country since the economy is continuing to develop and offer more people the opportunity to make more money. In addition, export opportunities from increased mineral and energy extraction have offered more trade and economic influx in the country.

The GDP of Papua New Guinea has experienced some of the highest growth in the world, largely due to energy extraction sector developments. In 2015, the GDP experienced 10.5 percent growth and has continued to steadily increase at a rate of two percent since then. The media misrepresents Papua New Guinea by stereotyping the country to have no real economic change; in reality, Papua New Guinea is beginning to develop more rapidly.

Urbanization

The media misrepresents Papua New Guinea as being stuck in the forest with little desire and opportunity to urbanize. While urbanization has been a challenge in Papua New Guinea due to the extremely dense forest and lack of infrastructure, this developing economy has led to more attention to urbanization.

The media, though, does not discuss such large strides towards infrastructure development. The World Bank’s Road Maintenance and Rehabilitation Project has restored more than 800 kilometers of national roads and plans to continue with its reparations. In addition, rehabilitated and replaced bridges have benefitted an estimated 1.3 million people, or about 27 percent of the population.

While a majority of the population lives in rural areas of the country, globalization and the development of cities like Lae and the capital Port Moresby have led to an increase in urbanized population in Papua New Guinea. In 1960, only 3.75 percent of the population lived in urban areas of the country; contrastingly, approximately 13 percent of the population lived in urbanized areas in 2016.

Diversity

The media misrepresents Papua New Guinea as a nation lacking diversity and constantly at war between a handful of tribes. In reality, the country is extremely ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse. Although only 7 million people live in Papua New Guinea, the country’s 820 languages spoken give it the world’s highest level of language diversity.

In addition to language isolates, English and English-based languages like Hiri Motu and Tok Pisin are commonly spoken between people throughout the country. Tok Pisin, an English Creole, is understood by over 50 percent of the population, and English is a lingua franca.

While there are thousands of tribes in Papua New Guinea, the media misrepresents the ways in which tribes interact with one another. Most tribes actually work together and are peaceful with each other, and showcase this annually through gatherings that emphasize the nation’s diversity called Sing Sings.

During Sing Sings, like in Mount Hagen or Goroka, as many as 100 different tribal groups come together to practice their different cultures, and the custom has continued for more than 60 years as a way to promote peaceful interactions between tribes.

A New Perspective

Although Papua New Guinea is a poor and largely undeveloped country, the media misrepresents and misconstrues the country as a lawless, tribal jungle with little economic growth and even less diversity. Despite this common perception, the economy of Papua New Guinea continues to grow — they’ve experienced a remarkable improvement in GDP, urbanization and globalization have catalyzed development within even rural areas of the country, and tribes in the country are largely peaceful and extremely diverse.

As a country whose motto is “Unity and Diversity,” Papua New Guineans have utilized their diverse cultural and physical landscape to make positive changes in their country. Now, it’s up to the media and the world to truly understand all that Papa New Guinea is and can be.

– Matthew Cline
Photo: Flickr

Polio in Papua New Guinea
A polio outbreak was reported in Papua New Guinea. This is the first time polio has been seen in the country in nearly two decades, and an especially poignant occurrence as polio is extremely close to eradication around the world.

What is Polio?

Polio is a dangerous virus spread through food, water and contact with infected people. Those who do not have access to adequate sanitation are especially vulnerable to the virus.

Polio multiplies in the intestines but can move to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and affect the nervous system. This can lead to paralysis. The poliovirus has no cure once contracted, so the only route to the end of polio is through vaccination and other methods of prevention.

How Do You Treat Polio?

There are two forms of vaccination against the polio virus, but oral poliovirus vaccines (OPVs) are the vaccine predominantly used across the world today. OPVs are inexpensive, at a maximum of $0.18 for countries supplied by UNICEF in 2016.

They also are easy-to-use as they are administered orally. Such facility means that the vaccine does not need trained healthcare personnel or sanitized syringes for application.

Polio in Papua New Guinea

The strain of polio in Papua New Guinea is known as vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1. This form of poliovirus is caused by a mutation of the weakened version of the polio virus used in the oral vaccine. The weakened version of the virus stays inside the person who has received the vaccine for several weeks. During this period of time, the body excretes the virus.

In areas with poor sanitation, the vaccine virus can be transferred from person-to-person and can also pass on a passive immunization to others in the community. However, if there is low immunization in a region, the virus can continue transferring for an extended period of time. This spread can lead to mutations in the virus and, in extremely rare cases, the virus can become neurovirulent again in what is called a vaccine-derived poliovirus.

Morobe Province and Prevention Methods

Within the Morobe Province — the region of Papua New Guinea where the virus outbreak was found — only 61 percent of the children had received the three doses of the oral polio vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). This lack of immunization in conjunction with the lack of adequate sanitation increases the spread of the virus and the danger of the outbreak.

WHO, the National Department of Health, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and other groups are working alongside the government of Papua New Guinea to contain the virus. Since the confirmation of an outbreak of polio in Papua New Guinea, several large-scale measures have been put into place to prevent any further spread of the disease.

These measures include extensive immunization of those in the region where the virus has been detected, especially for children under the age of 15, and increasing surveillance measures in order to detect any new cases of polio. Plans have also been established to employ more immunization campaigns in the coming weeks.

International Aid

Global efforts to eradicate the polio virus were launched in 1988. Since that time, polio incidence has dropped by 99 percent across the world. The wild poliovirus only remains endemic in three countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. In 2017, there were 22 cases of wild poliovirus and 96 cases of vaccine-derived poliovirus.

This dangerous disease is close to global eradication; however, the outbreak of polio in Papua New Guinea shows that the virus remains a danger in areas with insufficient sanitation and lack of adequate vaccinations. Organizations across the world continue to fight to keep everyone safe and to end the poliovirus once and for all.

– Lindabeth Doby
Photo: Google