Health in Papua New GuineaFor the island nation of Papua New Guinea, the COVID-19 outbreak has led to some positive developments despite the harm the pandemic has caused. Health officials state that the COVID-19 pandemic has tested medical infrastructure in Papua New Guinea, providing opportunities for the country to strengthen its healthcare system and be better able to deal with future health crises. Several organizations are committed to improving health in Papua New Guinea.

Healthcare Accessibility

Lack of accessibility to healthcare is a significant barrier for the citizens of Papua New Guinea. One of the defining characteristics of Papua New Guinea is how vast and well-dispersed the country is with roughly 600 islands. Its many secluded and remote areas may seem ideal for a vacation destination, but these qualities prove to be challenging from a healthcare perspective. Due to the abundant natural resources, around 80% of residents live off the land in rural areas that are not in close proximity to medical facilities. Despite logistical trials, the country is slowly but surely making progress.

Vaccine Distribution

As of April 12, 2021, Papua New Guinea had reported almost 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. On April 16, 2021, the Oceania nation received 132,000 vaccines from the COVAX Facility. The national vaccine rollout was launched on May 4, 2021, first focusing on the 3% of the population making up frontline workers. Considering the decentralized population and the late start in acquiring vaccines, Papua New Guinea has made progress in fighting COVID-19. By educating the population about vaccines and medical vernacular, health officials agree that efforts to combat the virus have better prepared the country for future medical crises.

Identifying Shortcomings

In addition to vaccination efforts, COVID-19 response funds are being used to create water facilities in vulnerable areas such as the North Fly District. This improvement will benefit the country on a long-term basis. The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the local medical system by pointing out flaws. This has prompted Papua New Guinea to find solutions to make future outbreaks more manageable.

Weakened demand due to the pandemic has left Papua New Guinea’s economy crippling. Vaccinations are serving to remedy the economic strain as much will go back to normality once a greater part of the population is vaccinated and the economy will be stimulated. As normalcy returns, the unemployment rate and poverty rate are projected to gradually decrease. However, Papua New Guinea’s healthcare system still needs support from outside organizations in order to strengthen.

3 Organizations Supporting Healthcare in Papua New Guinea

  1. Doctors Without Borders is a humanitarian aid organization. It provides medical assistance needed around the world. In  order to improve health in Papua New Guinea, its current focus is fighting tuberculosis. With mobile clinics and less invasive treatments, the organization is able to care for patients situated in remote areas and save them the cost of travel to and from a medical facility.
  2. The PNG Foundation specifically supports approximately 70,000 Kamea people of Papua New Guinea. Rugged highland terrain creates difficulty accessing health, educational and infrastructure support. The goals of the PNG Foundation include providing basic medical care and maintaining the hospital and schools.
  3. The well-being of Papua New Guinea’s women and children lies at the heart of the Highlands Foundation’s mission. The organization combats maternal and infant mortality. Its projects include sending medical supplies, clothes, toiletries and sanitary items to hospitals in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea. The Highlands Foundation also leads training programs for local medical staff and sends volunteers to ease the pressure of the national medical personnel shortages.

Global organizations, foreign aid and private donors have aided Papua New Guinea by providing vaccines, equipment and other essential resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the struggles of Papua New Guinea’s healthcare system. Now that the shortcomings are apparent, Papua New Guinea will require further support and assistance in order to address these issues and strengthen healthcare in the country.

– Lucy Gentry
Photo: Unsplash