Mental Health in Papua New GuineaNestled in Oceania and comprising numerous smaller islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG) boasts a landscape as diverse as it is captivating. A tapestry woven with mountains, rainforests and coasts offers a backdrop for a profound cultural mosaic — one adorned with over 800 languages and the legacy of indigenous heritage. Yet, within this beauty lies the challenge of limited access to health care, education and foundational infrastructure. Furthermore, there is a broad range of diverse mental health concerns in Papua New Guinea.

5 Facts About Mental Health in Papua New Guinea 

  1. Limited Access to Services – Research shows that PNG has about 748,000 cases of mental illness, ranging from anxiety disorders to eating disorders. Yet, despite national efforts, the development of small psychiatry units within provincial hospitals is almost nonexistent. While there might be an upturn in the number of trained mental health nurses, the bulk of program graduates veers toward broader medical fields, forsaking mental health facilities and psychiatric institutions to wrestle with staff shortages. Broadly speaking, PNG’s health services struggle with a lack of resources and support, casting a shadow over the country’s health care landscape. In this intricate equation, mental health, despite its vital significance, is marginalized, drawing even less focus than other crucial health care components.
  2. Stigma and Cultural Beliefs – Stigma casts its shadow across many nations, yet in PNG, it creates a paralyzing fear that deters those dealing with mental health issues from seeking help. The apprehension stems from the haunting thought of losing not just the support of loved ones but also the respect of peers. In a society where some diminish the gravity of mental health concerns, those grappling with such challenges are unfairly deemed weak, leading to a forfeiture of the respect they rightfully deserve. 
  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – PNG has weathered prolonged spells of social discord, particularly evident in regions like Bougainville and the Highlands. Triggered by specific traumatic social events, post-traumatic stress disorder has emerged as a pressing mental health concern within PNG’s landscape, warranting focused attention.
  4. Lack of Government Efforts – The imperative to improve mental health lies in a nation’s government actively engaging in public education and furnishing resources for mental health services. Regrettably, in PNG, the availability of such services, alongside other essential support systems, remains limited. Consequently, individuals often find themselves compelled to seek solace in traditional healers, given the absence of viable alternatives. The pandemic has exacerbated this already critical scenario, effectively severing the connection between people and their trusted local traditional healers due to restrictions on physical interactions. Recently in PNG’s new National Health Plan 2021-30, there is no mention of mental health.
  5. Headstret – Fortunately, PNG receives support from a non-governmental organization (NGO) known as Headstret. This organization is dedicated to eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health disorders within societies, like that of PNG. It strives to raise awareness about mental health challenges through promoting well-being education. Its Facebook page, established in 2019, Headstret has 3,700 supporters globally.


Papua New Guinea’s multifaceted geographical landscape, coupled with its linguistically intricate composition, gives rise to numerous challenges. The stigma around mental health issues is a significant deterrent for patients seeking assistance, underscoring the crucial roles that services and education play.

The prevailing reality reveals a dearth of adequate measures being taken in this regard. Given this circumstance, individuals hailing from various nations have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact by fostering awareness, enlightening others and offering resources to assist those who are grappling with such issues. One notable example is the organization known as Headstret, which is diligently working to alleviate numerous mental health challenges in Papua New Guinea.

– Sandy Kang
Photo: Pixabay

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