dual outbreaksThe impact of COVID-19 has resulted in fractured economies and health care systems all around the world. While some countries are trying to recover, others just cannot catch a break. Papua New Guinea is a country that finds itself in a unique and desperate situation. With the onset of COVID-19, the country was also hit with a resurgence of polio. Dual outbreaks are a cause of significant concern for Papua New Guinea. Australia is coming to the aid of its neighbors with a substantial financial assistance plan.

Resurgence of Polio

Papua New Guinea is one of the most poverty-stricken countries in the pacific region. The country was declared officially polio-free 18 years ago, but in 2018, the virus was rediscovered in a 6-year-old child. Shortly after, the virus also emerged in multiple other children from the same general area. Polio is especially harmful to children under 5 years old and can lead to lifelong paralysis.

A few months after the polio outbreak, the Australian Government stepped in and responded by giving $10 million to Papua New Guinea’s polio immunization crusade. A few weeks later, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) received another $6 million, which an additional $15 million dedication followed in November 2018. Rachel Mason Nunn, an experienced social development worker in Papua New Guinea, stated that “We have a window right now to invest heavily in infectious diseases in Papua New Guinea. Australia should continue to invest in health care in Papua New Guinea, if not just because it is the right thing to do, but because helping our region acquire strong health systems is a vital element of Australia’s own health security.” Australia is the largest contributor to the development of Papua New Guineas’ struggling health care system.

COVID-19 in Papua New Guinea

In an extreme case of bad luck, Papua New Guinea experienced two disease outbreaks within two years of each other. In a frantic request for aid, the government reached out to the World Health Organization (WHO) in an effort to take some weight off its already overburdened health care system.  When COVID-19 hit the county, there was a limited number of testing kits available and a shortage of medical staff as well as medical supplies and protective gear. The WHO responded by deploying emergency medical teams and supplying necessary resources to upscale testing in Papua New Guinea.

The Road Ahead

Due to the support of contributors like the WHO and Australia, millions of child polio vaccinations have been administered and a sufficient number of COVID-19 testing kits are available in the country. For a country that is still dealing with diseases like malaria and polio, the people of Papua New Guinea are pushing ahead. This unique situation serves as a global reminder that the prevention and treatment of other diseases should not be neglected during the COVID-19 pandemic and that inter-country support is essential in addressing dual outbreaks.

– Brandon Baham
Photo: Flickr

sorcery killings in Papua New GuineaSorcery — like something out of Harry Potter movies— receives a lot of focus around fall, especially on Halloween. It is a common lighthearted joke of the season. However, sorcery, magic and witches are a strong legitimate belief in some cultures, especially in Papua New Guinea. Sorcery, also known as “sanguma,” is a life or death issue in Papua New Guinea — sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea are all too common.

These murders rarely make the news, and police protection is unreliable. Those mainly accused of witchcraft and sorcery are women, which leads to gender-based violence in Papua New Guinea. Since 2013, Papua New Guinea’s government has been attempting to stop this modern-day witch hunt. Despite their efforts, it’s harder than it seems. One main obstacle is the lack of awareness. This problem only gained global attention in 2017. The people of Papua New Guinea accused Justice, a 7-year-old girl, of using dark magic.

The History

Sorcery killings have been occurring in Papua New Guinea for centuries. For a period of time, their law even legalized the killings. In 1971, the Papua New Guinea government passed the Sorcery Act. This law made sorcery an illegal and criminalized act. It also made sorcery a legal defense when it came to murder trials. The act affirmed that magic is a real, plausible belief in their culture, which can be punishable by death.

Between 1980 and 2012, sorcery killings resulted in only 19 charges of murders or willful murders. Then in 2013, the Sorcery Act was repealed (the part about sorcery as an acceptable murder defense). Witchcraft practitioners were (and are) still imposed with the death penalty — although, there have been no executions since 1954.

Additionally in 2013, the government passed a Family Protection Act. The new act criminalized domestic violence and allowed women to acquire protection orders. But according to Human Rights Watch, the implementation of the law is weak.

Despite the new legal repercussions, death rates have continued to increase. Locals believe up to 50,000 people have been accused over the years, and there are 200 sorcery killings annually.

Recent Occurrences

Sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea continue today is because of the lack of punishment and law enforcement. Many public events have occurred when it comes to sorcery killings, many of which fly under the media’s radar.

In a 2016 case, four women were accused of stealing a man’s heart. After condemning the women for witchcraft, villagers attacked the women and forced them to return his heart. The man made a full recovery with his “returned” heart. While the man lived, a video surfaced of the burning, torture and death of all four women. Justice, the 7-year-old girl who gained global attention, was accused of the same act. Likewise, her village captured and tortured her for five days.

Positive Change

Papua New Guinea’s government has been upholding their decision to hold individuals accountable for sorcery killings. In 2017, The National Council agreed that eight men were to receive the death penalty for a sorcery-related killing. Further, the government raised $2.9 million for “sorcery awareness and education programs.”

There are even foundations, such as the PNG Tribal Foundation, dedicated to helping Papua New Guinea. The organizations fight to change the country’s societal views on women, engage in new health care programs, open women’s forums and help at-risk youth. The PNG Tribal Foundation actually helped create a plan to save 7-year-old Justice from her village.

Hopefully, change is on the rise when it comes to sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea and the associated gender-based violence. Papua New Guinea can begin to turn things around if they put into place more properly enforced laws.

Jessica LaVopa
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Papua New GuineaAlthough Papua New Guinea is a resource-rich area, almost 40% of its population lives in poverty. For women, Papua New Guinea is a dangerous place to live as the country is plagued by gendered violence and inequality and women’s rights are unprotected.

Women’s Rights in Papua New Guinea

Although the Papua New Guinea Constitution technically renders men and women equal, the traditional customs of the country and the patriarchal values that come with the vastly rural community make it difficult for this to actually implement itself within the country. Women’s rights in Papua New Guinea are shunted on a legislative and social level. In fact, not a single woman in Papua New Guinea is a member of Parliament. Moreover, women are not given the opportunity to be in positions of power due to a lack of access to education. In Papua New Guinea, only 18% of girls are enrolled in secondary school.

Gender-Based Violence in Papua New Guinea

Women in Papua New Guinea are subject to male domination and violence. It is estimated that Papua New Guinea has one of the highest rates of gender violence in the world, for a country that is not a conflict zone. Moreover, the ruralness of Papua New Guinea leads to a lack of infrastructure and community programs to deter violence and provide sanctuary to women and girls who have experienced domestic violence. Women are often forced to return to their abusers due to the lack of these types of systems.

In 2015, Doctors Without Borders completed its Return to Abuser report in Papua New Guinea. Of the patients treated, 94% were female, with the most common form of violence being at the hands of domestic partners. From 2007 to 2015, Doctors Without Borders treated nearly 28,000 survivors of family and sexual violence in Papua New Guinea. Doctors Without Borders shared that this abuse cycle continues because women and children lack the proper resources to leave their abusers, as many of them are dependant on the abuser and the abuse happens at home.

Intimate Partner Violence

In a United Nations multi-country study about Asia and the Pacific, researchers discovered alarming statistics about the pervasiveness of intimate partner violence. In Papua New Guinea, 80% of male participants self-reported perpetrating physical and/or sexual violence against their partner in their lifetime. Additionally, 83% of male participants also reported having committed emotionally abusive acts against their female partners in their lifetime. Sexual violence in Papua New Guinea is an epidemic too. In the same study, 62% of males also reported that they had perpetrated some form of rape against a woman or girl in their lifetime.

Pro Bono Australia

Despite these statistics, women in Papua New Guinea are supported by female-focused programs, such as Pro Bono Australia. Pro Bono Australia is working to aid women in Papua New Guinea to learn more about business and communication. Up to 85% of women in Papua New Guinea make their livelihoods off of the informal economy, through selling goods and services at markets. Through Pro Bono Australia, more than 600 market and street traders in Papua New Guinea who are mostly women, are members of the provincial vendors association. Through this association, vendors educate themselves about the Papua New Guinea market and the Constitution. Moreover, they now can communicate with governmental leaders and local leaders about the status of the informal economy. From this communication, these women have also been able to communicate with their leaders about other issues within their communities. As a result of this program, the provincial vendors association has begun to petition the government for better sanitation, safe spaces, better shelter and reliable water.

The Future for Women in Papua New Guinea

The communication between a coalition of mostly females and the governmental structure of Papua New Guinea will give voices to those who have been voiceless, bring attention to the status of women within society and hopefully make strides towards resolving issues such as gender-based violence and women’s rights in general. As a result of this measure, there is hope that women’s rights in Papua New Guinea will continue to improve and that the resources for gender-based violence will expand.

– Caitlin Calfo
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is a country in the southwestern Pacific. Often thought of for its beautiful beaches, active volcanoes and coral reefs, Papua New Guinea has an incredibly diverse culture. The country is home to many different tribal groups and is the most linguistically diverse country in the world, with more than 800 indigenous languages. However, while the island nation has beautiful scenery and rich culture, hunger continues to be a prevalent issue. Here are five facts about hunger in Papua New Guinea.

5 Facts About Hunger in Papua New Guinea

  1. Nearly 50% of children in Papua New Guinea are malnourished. As of 2018, almost half of the children in Papua New Guinea suffered from chronic malnutrition. This is much higher than the global average and causes a large percentage of hospital deaths for children under five. Malnutrition can have lasting effects on children, leading to health complications in their adult life.
  2. Data gathered on food insecurity in Papua New Guinea is scarce. Collecting data on the nourishment of those in Papua New Guinea is difficult, and limited data leads not only to limited reporting but also to limited decision making. Despite knowing that many families living in rural, low-income communities are food insecure, it is difficult for the government to create effective policy changes without accurate statistics.
  3. Volatile weather causes droughts and increases food insecurity. Papua New Guinea faces unpredictable climate catastrophes, including active volcanos and inconsistent rainfall. Since 2015, Papua New Guinea has been affected by the climate phenomenon El Niño, which caused a disruption in weather patterns and a drastic decrease in rainfall in the region. Reduced rainfall led to issues producing crops and livestock and resulted in a severe drought in the region. Food availability was already low in many regions and the drought led to even more hunger in Papua New Guinea. In addition to contributing to food insecurity, the reduced rainfall also led to decreased access to clean water. As a result, many families turned to alternative water sources that present further health issues, such as dysentery and typhoid.
  4. Papua New Guinea is committed to achieving a zero-hunger world by 2030. In 2018, the Minister for Agriculture and Livestock in Papua New Guinea, Hon Benny Allen, committed himself and his country to achieving food security for all of Papua New Guinea. Allen created a strategy that includes placing agricultural issues at the forefront of the country’s focus. He promised to make the people the focus of these initiatives by creating sustainable food systems and improved climate disaster preparedness.
  5. Papua New Guinea created a National Food Security Policy. The National Food Security Policy 2018-2027 outlines a concrete plan to address food insecurity in the nation. The policy states that food security is a basic human right and lays out five priority strategic action areas. These strategic areas include increased productivity and efficiency in food staple production, stability in supply systems, enhanced nutrient content in foods for consumption by vulnerable households, female empowerment in agriculture, and strengthened governing, coordination, monitoring and communication.

While Hunger in Papua New Guinea is faced by many in the island nation, the country is moving toward a more sustainable and equitable future. Through the National Food Security Policy and commitment to zero-hunger, Papua New Guinea aims to ensure every citizen has access to food.

– Jazmin Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Sorcery Killings in Papua New GuineaIn modern times, science can explain the causes of sickness and death. However, it is not difficult to find areas of the world in which superstitions can overpower fact, sometimes with disastrous consequences. One prime example is the rise of sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea. Many families have suffered both physically and psychologically from accusations of sorcery and subsequent torture. Furthermore, some communities have even displaced people from their homes and murdered innocent victims.

In many cases, young women and occasionally even children become scapegoats for issues plaguing the entire community, such as AIDS. Members of the community accuse these women of sanguma, the local term for sorcery. They then torture them into admitting their crimes in a frightening scenario resembling the Salem Witch Trials. Ending sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea is necessary to save these lives.

Cultural Perspectives on Sorcery

There are several factors as to why many cases of sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea have not yet been resolved by the authorities. Many communities target suspected sorcerers with supposedly good intentions: the hope of protecting friends and family from becoming victims of the supposed sorcerer. In many cases, members of the community are afraid to report crimes that they have witnessed due to fears of community backlash.

As such, the proper authorities never address dozens of cases of sorcery killings, as individuals who could potentially report the issue are too frightened to come forward. Whistleblowers can ironically experience accusations of conspiring with or supporting sorcerers. Due to threats and intimidation, families are afraid of possible torture or death if they attempt to report a killing. Not to mention that geographic limitations and limited police presence in these areas mean that there are not always means to make a report. This makes ending sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea an exceptionally tall order.

Declining Health, Increasing Blame

The idea in Papua New Guinea that sanguma can manifest itself in individuals, granting them strange powers, is not new. It used to be a benign belief in the past. However, it is only more recently that communities started to seek out witches and sorcerers to remove them from society. Several key factors have contributed to the issue of sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea. Through the spread of Western culture, communities in the country have altered their diets and lifestyle choices to match the trends of countries like the United States. However, an unfortunate side effect of these changes is that they have an increased risk of various health issues and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. As the general health of a community decreases, individuals often inflict violence on scapegoats as a means of coping with grief and stress.

The Role of Technology

Sorcery-related murders of men are also connected to climbing land prices related to industrialization. New technology and improved land have caused some individuals to target landowners and their families, revealing that personal gain also plays a part in this tragedy.

In addition, social media has had an adverse effect. Western nations are all too aware of how an endless stream of news articles and strong claims can lead to arguments and hate-filled polarization. But the sudden proliferation of smartphones and social media platforms like Facebook is even more unsettling across the developing world, where tech neophytes are less discerning consumers. In Papua New Guinea, accusations against suspected witches spread rapidly thanks to new technology. In one case, a woman accused of sorcery but relocated to a remote community suffered mutilation after recognition from viral Facebook posts. Ending sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea requires acknowledging the role of technology in spreading accusations.

Hope for Change

However, there is hope in an initiative called the Sorcery Accusation Related Violence National Action Plan (SARVNAP), which was created in 2013 following the execution of a 20-year-old mother named Leniata. An organization of human rights activists and church leaders, SARVNAP emphasizes a holistic approach to addressing sanguma. It depends on aid from Australia to fund these initiatives to end violence and assist victims. The program holds promise, but it must achieve many goals to make a difference, including securing more political roles for women and improving health care, education and employment. With funding and awareness, ending sorcery killings in Papua New Guinea is possible.

Aditya Daita
Photo: Pixabay

Period Poverty in Papua New Guinea
People in Papua New Guinea (PNG) still see the words menstruation or period as taboo. Yet, people are fighting to get the word out that a period is not something to be ashamed of and that addressing period poverty in Papua New Guinea should be a priority.

The Situation in Papua New Guinea

According to 2017 research from the Burnet Institute, an Australian medical research organization, many adolescents girls in PNG are not prepared to have their period and do not have the necessary knowledge about menstruation. As a result, findings have determined that the majority of them feel ashamed about it.

Menstruation is an important time for every adolescent girl. Educating about it helps them deal with the anxiety and anticipation that comes after, especially as understanding menstruation is important in identifying any abnormalities regarding health.

According to a Nationwide Children’s hospital blog article, “Young women should also be educated on what types of menstrual products exist and how to use menstrual products appropriately.” However, many adolescents and women in PNG do not have access to menstrual products or even proper sanitation facilities leading to period poverty and gender inequality.

Taboos About Periods in PNG

Period poverty in Papua New Guinea has been happening for many years now. From a young age, people in PNG have been teaching women, who comprise around 48% of the population, that period blood is “dirty” and “unhealthy.” In rural communities in PNG, the taboo of periods goes as far as women being separated from men and their families during menstruation because their community believes that it will bring bad luck to men and boys. In addition, women cannot even cook or go near food during menstruation because others perceive them as “unclean.”

Additionally, education about menstruation often depends on how comfortable teachers are about the subject. In many cases, girls often feel humiliated by the way teachers treat and teach the subject of menstruation, often reinforcing cultural beliefs.

Lack of Sanitation Facilities

Furthermore, the lack of sanitary places and access to menstrual products, especially in rural areas, only contributes to unsafe practices of cleaning and impacts the lives of many girls and women. Indeed, the majority of them stop going to school or work during their periods because of the fear of experiencing ridicule from their male peers.

Women and girls who live in rural areas also frequently have access to poor quality menstrual products if they can afford them at all. They often use pieces of cloth or second-hand products that can lead to “rashes, discomfort and leakage, which can cause pain and further perpetuate the cycle of shame.”

Implementation of WASH Facilities

The report from the Burnet Institute highlights some of the solutions to overcome and facilitate the management of menstruation to end period poverty and gender inequality in PNG.

One particular solution is the increment of WASH facilities in schools and workplaces. Often, they are not adequate for girls and women to use while on their periods. Some of the problems include a lack of privacy while using toilets and showers, and a deficiency of well-functioning toilets and soap and water for handwashing and personal hygiene.

The good news is that there are many organizations working toward the proper implementation of menstrual hygiene management in PNG. Papua New Guinea’s government, UNICEF and other partner organizations (World Vision, Oxfam and Infra Tech) have been working together since 2016 to carry out a five-year plan to improve water and sanitation in the four districts of PNG including Nawaeb in Morobe, Goroka in the Eastern Highlands, Hagen Central in Western Highlands and Central Bougainville District in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. The program will significantly improve the quality of life of more than 70,000 people and expectations have determined that it will reach completion by 2021.

Moon Sick Care Bags

Furthermore, since 2017, women in PNG have been receiving Moon Sick Care Bags from women in Queens Island. The bag includes personal underwear, soap, menstrual products, information about the menstrual cycle and even a small bag where they can put their soiled pads. Yolonde Entsch, coordinator and partner of the program, said that “Our Moon Sick Care Bags provide everything a woman or girl needs to manage menstruation with dignity and confidence.”

With time and work, women and girls in PNG will receive the necessary facilities to properly manage their menstruation with dignity, and hopefully, period poverty in Papua New Guinea will no longer prevent women and girls from living their lives.

– Alannys Milano
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Papua New GuineaAmidst everything that is currently happening around the world, one of the biggest challenges that Papua New Guinea faces is the growth of youth which already represents 60% of the entire population. If the government does not start acting accordingly, then these young people could become vulnerable to delinquency and violence and end up increasing overall homelessness in Papua New Guinea.

Life of Homeless Children

According to the Life PNG Care Director Collin Pake, there were around 5,000 homeless children in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, in 2018. Many of them migrated from the rural areas of PNG looking for cleaning jobs as a way to help their families, while others received encouragement to go to the capital in search of their dreams. Additionally, others left home after experiencing abandonment from their families or ran away because of abuse or losing their family to illness.

Housing Crisis

But no matter their reasons, when coming to the capital they encounter many obstacles that do not let them prosper. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the employment per ratio population in Papua New Guinea has considerably dropped from 69% to 46%. It is not news that finding well-paid employment in the capital is hard. For that reason, many young people engage in informal jobs to subsist, as well as many live out in the streets due to the high rent.

According to a research by Professor Eugene Ezebilo, head of the property development program at the PNG National Research Institute, rent around the capital is too high for low-income families; often an apartment listing can go for around $300-600 USD a week, which represents rent stress for many families living in Port Moresby. In this way, many either become homeless, recur to ask for money from other family members or live in the outskirts of the city in informal houses.

How Life PNG Care Improves the Lives of Homeless Children

In an effort to reduce homelessness in Papua New Guinea, Pake and his wife started LIfe PNG Care 12 years ago. In 2018, it granted shelter, food and care to around 54 children. It even offers an education program that caters to 100 children.

Life PNG Care offers accommodation, education and advocates for child protection. They run three main education programs: the Strongim Pikinini program, Home School education program and Mobile Education program.

Furthermore, efforts of NCD Food Bank volunteers have resulted in the preparation of food bags for the homeless, street kids, people with disabilities and those who are experiencing food poverty in Port Moresby. This work has been especially important during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Yet, the problem still continues unless more results come from the government. Indeed, a way to not let the youth become an obstacle for the economy is supporting them in every way possible with better access to education, health and employment. This youth with guidance can become quite an exceptional asset for the economy and in ending homelessness in Papua New Guinea

Alannys Milano
Photo: Flickr

The common notion is that Papua New Guinea is composed of mostly of rural tribes and coconut trees; this is not true. In fact, the big island boasts an abundance of natural resources that include gold, copper, silver, gas and oil. Papua New Guinea’s resources have attracted many foreign companies to want to work in the region and exploit its resources, including the U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobile Corp. According to the World Bank, the country’s GDP has steadily increased from $3.5 billion in 2000 to $24.97 billion today. Yet, it seems that poverty in Papua New Guinea is still pervasive.

Lack of Basic Necessities

Poverty in Papua New Guinea is influenced by education, healthcare and infrastructure. Around “80% of Papua New Guinea’s people live in rural areas.” According to the World Bank, less than 40% of those living in these areas have electricity in their households whether on or off the grid. In rural areas, there is limited access to clean water and sanitation. In fact, only 8% of rural areas have proper sanitation. This is causing major illnesses and an almost 40% infant mortality rate.

The inability to receive adequate healthcare is another factor that perpetuates poverty in Papua New Guinea. Medical facilities often lack basic resources such as equipment, vaccines and even workers. Papua New Guinea has a population of 8 million people but “only 500 doctors, less than 4,000 nurses, and 5,000 hospital beds.” After 20 years, it has recently been facing the return of polio and HIV because of shortages of vaccines and proper treatment. In addition, the majority of people living in rural areas do not have access to resources because of the lack of developed roads. Therefore, they have to walk long distances to reach these facilities.

Furthermore, not all students in rural areas have access to village schools. Some need to walk miles to reach their schools. Most of these schools lack resources and teachers who often do not have the appropriate training. In 2018, there was a shortage of 10,000 teachers in schools, most of which were in rural areas.

Education and Health Setbacks and Initiatives

The Tuition-Free Free education policy launched in 2012. This policy was an attempt in providing free education to the population. However, the government has failed to deliver the funds to the schools, causing many to close down. To make matters worse, Papua New Guinea suffered from a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in 2018. the earthquake. The quake and its subsequent aftershocks caused the death of around 31 people and the displacement of more than 30,000. This increased the overall poverty rate in Papua New Guinea.

Many healthcare facilities, schools and homes were destroyed. Providing better access to quality infrastructure is one of the ways in which poverty in Papua New Guinea can improve. The creation of more roads will increase the accessibility of healthcare and education. Improving the overall education, healthcare and transport infrastructure is one of the goals of WHO, UNICEF and Asian Development Bank. In 2017, ADB provided “$680 million for the Sustainable Highlands Highway Investment Program”, which will connect roads and services to around three million people. In addition, it also committed almost $3 million for the Health Services Sector Development Program and the Rural Primary Health Services Delivery Project. Both projects aim to strengthen the health services in Papua New Guinea.

The Good News

James Marape, the new Prime Minister, is making efforts to fight poverty. The education system is undergoing its fourth reform with a focus on reaching and providing better resources to the young population. On top of that, partnership projects are working to support the health system. For example, the World Bank’s Emergency Tuberculosis project is a $15 million project that has already been making an impact since 2017.

The response to poverty in Papua New Guinea will depend solely on improving the health system and education of its population. This is especially imperative now since now more than half of the population is composed of young people. If the country’s opportunities and health are improved, the country can be led into prosperity.

Alannys Milano
Photo: Flickr

Clean Water in Papua New Guinea
Nestled on the eastern coast of the Island of New Guinea, just north of Australia, Papua New Guinea is home to the third-largest rainforest, over 839 spoken languages and countless commodities like cocoa, coffee and palm oil. The country boasts a diverse topography ranging from coastal towns and river valleys to mountainous highlands. The tribal communities within its borders are as diverse as the landscapes they inhabit. However, there is a lack of clean water in Papua New Guinea.

Lack of Clean Water and Sanitation Facilities

Despite its ecological diversity and recent economic development, the country still lacks one of the most vital resources of all: clean water. The consequences of the clean water and improved sanitation facility shortage are both dire and systematic. This affects current populations and the future prosperity of the country. The country ranks second-lowest in access to safe water in the world because of its wide range of challenging geographies which make accessing some rural areas nearly impossible. According to the World Bank Systematic Diagnostic, only 13 percent of rural areas have access to improved facilities. In addition, only 33 percent of rural areas have access to clean water in Papua New Guinea.

Consequences

Rural areas experiencing substantially lower levels of access are more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses such as dysentery, cholera, malaria and diarrhea. These illnesses are leading causes of the high infant mortality rate, which according to UNICEF’s most recent estimate is about 38 deaths per 1,000 live births. According to 2016 estimates, the mortality rate of diarrheal diseases from exposure to unsafe WASH services is 16.3 per 100,000.

Even in less severe instances, these shortcomings cause malnutrition and stunted growth. It is also a cause of socioeconomic obstacles such as lack of education due to infection. Additionally, this leads to reduced social mobility for communities in rural areas.

Water Access

The prevailing means of getting water is to carry it up from the river in jerry cans. This can be time-consuming and often dangerous for the women and girls burdened with the task. Some larger institutions with adequate roofing such as the Madan Coffee Plantation, hospitals and various schools are equipped with rain catchment systems. Those institutions will occasionally allow surrounding communities to access the water reserves at certain times during the day. The dry season lasts from June through September, during which even these communities rely on the river to supply their water. Larger water systems may also include sky hydrants. The sky hydrants utilize piping to bring water up from the river before sending it through a filtration system. Then, it will send the water back down to the communities in need. These systems are far less common as they require substantial financial resources for initial investment and cost of maintenance.

Sanitation Facilities

Lack of improved sanitation facilities is even more widespread and arguably more detrimental to the health of Papua New Guineans since many will take to the river as an alternative. When the Borgen Project interviewed Laura Elizabeth Combee, a nurse who volunteers with Water Hands Hope, about the water conditions in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, she said that “You just see people living in bamboo walls and you see people carrying water from the side of the mountain. And maybe the water is fine, but what are the people on top of the mountain doing? Do you know? So, you don’t know what is contaminating the water.”

One of the most effective alternatives is ash and hay toilets or composting toilets. This catches excrement in two separate compartments before respectively covering them with either ash or hay. This process allows for more sanitary water sources and allows populations to use the remnants as a fertilizer for agricultural purposes. While highly efficient, the use of these is not widespread as there is a lack of information and knowhow.

Water Hands Hope

One of the organizations working to remedy the shortage of clean water in Papua New Guinea is Water Hands Hope. Founded in 2014, the mission of this small Honolulu-based NGO is to use a network of local communities and volunteers to develop and implement WASH infrastructure, deliver community-based educational services and provide medical assistance and clinical work.

Laura Elizabeth Combee uses her medical knowledge to promote, educate and report on water sanitation in rural areas of Papua New Guinea. Two regions in which she volunteers are the Wagi Wan community surrounding the Madan Coffee Plantation and the town of Kundiawa, both located in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Participants in Water Hands Hope

During educational sessions, Water Hands Hope advises participant groups to boil water. This process would rid it of any parasites, viruses and protozoa. Additionally, it is the leading cause of waterborne illnesses.

Returning participants aware of the risks associated with unsterilized water grieve that without electricity, they often have to complete other more pressing tasks during the limited daytime, such as tending to the gardens for nourishment or working on the plantation. Lack of electricity is one of the main developmental obstacles that people in the country face.

Even if water systems are in place, there are plenty of hindrances that might deny people access to clean water in Papua New Guinea. Sometimes people have limited water access due to a lack of maintenance or a piece going missing and causing the whole system to be dysfunctional. Other times, the reasons might be because of culture or tradition.

Victoria-Maxine Haburka
Photo: Flickr

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