As people continue to relocate to the country one of the key issues of concern is the state of the nation's healthcare system. As it can be daunting receiving medical treatment outside of your home nation, many foreigners want to know what the healthcare system is like in Papua New Guinea before they enter the country
Health Care System Information
Papua New Guinea is a developing nation and having only recently gained independence in 1975, there are problems in trying to develop modern healthcare infrastructure. Papua New Guinea is considered to have the most problematic health status in its geographical reason according to the WHO; it is struggling with the issue of numerous widespread diseases. Malaria, Dengue Fever, Typhoid, Tuberculosis, Cholera still afflict thousands of Papua New Guineans every year and 1.5% of the population are living with HIV/AIDS, causing the WHO to declare it a generalized epidemic. Maternal death rates remain high, with about 300 deaths per 100,000 live births; the mortality rate for children under 5 years of age is also high at 93 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Healthcare in Papua New Guinea varies between the medical facilities in Port Moresby and other large cities, and aid posts in more remote areas. Health services in Papua New Guinea are provided by government and church providers which get their funding from the public sector, company or enterprise-based providers, such as mines providing their own services, a small private medical sector in some big cities and traditional healers.
The National Department of Health’s main focus is on public health policy, setting standards, training new medical personal and monitoring; it is only directly responsible for the 19 provincial hospitals. Local and provincial governments are charged with managing what is known as “rural health services” which includes rural hospitals, health centers and sub-centers and aid posts. The local and provincial governments are in charge of implementing policy and funding programs for healthcare, but given that local governments have a number of conflicting priorities, rural health services all across the country are chronically underfunded.
The National Department of Health has number of healthcare priorities which are put forth in its plan for 2009-2013. These include:
- Full immunization of every child under 1 year of age.
- Reducing maternal mortality rates in problem districts.
- Reducing the prevalence of malaria in locations where it is endemic.
- Reducing the rate of infection for HIV/AIDS and other STIs.
- Reducing Tuberculosis in the worst affected areas.
- Increasing accessibility to health services for urban poor.
In the year 2000, Papua New Guinea had 48 urban clinics, 508 large health centers and 1820 aid posts. According to the National Department of Health, these medical facilities are within reach of 96% of the population. However, considering the fact that only about 3.5% of the nation’s roads are paved, actually accessing rural healthcare may prove more difficult. Technically, public health services are supposed to be free of charge to citizens, although small fees are usually charged for outpatient services, and there is also no private health insurance in Papua New Guinea.
Underfunding is a serious problem for the healthcare network in Papua New Guinea, with the amount of money spent on health as a percent of GDP dropping from 4.4% in 2001 to 3.2% in 2006. Despite the fact that about 80% of provincial spending on health services went towards salaries in 2006, the number of nurses per population remains low at 15 for every 10,000 person, and the number of doctors per population is a tragic 1.26 per 10,000 people with some provinces and districts having no doctors at all. The lack of medical professionals is often compounded by a weak distribution chain for medical supplies, meaning drugs and other supplies are often out of stock while equipment may suffer sporadic failures. A survey in 2006 pointed to the vulnerability of the pharmaceutical sector to corruption, and there are concerns that the prices paid for drugs may be several times higher than what they are available for in international markets.
While medical facilities in large urban areas should be able to provide adequate emergency care in some cases, many serious cases may require you to be transported to Australia for treatment which can be very expensive. Most hospitals and doctors in Papua New Guinea expect immediate payment in cash for treatment. It is recommended that you have a Papua New Guinea international insurance policy that covers emergency medical evacuations and also that you should gain an entry visa for Australia prior to your visit to Papua New Guinea, in case you need to be transported there for medical treatment.
If you need more information about Papua New Guinea, international health insurance plans we offer in the country, or want a free Papua New Guinea health insurance quote, please contact one of our expert advisers today.
About Papua New Guinea
When traveling to a new country it is recommended that you familiarize yourself with some basic information about the country to better prepare yourself. For this purpose, we have provided a general outline of Papua New Guinea for you below.
Please take note that this information is intended for reference purposes only, and the information provided on this page may change at any time and without prior warning. For more up to date information about Papua New Guinea, please contact a travel expert prior to your departure.
Official Name: Papua New Guinea’s official name is the Independent State of Papua New Guinea. The country has a complex administrative history, having previously been German New Guinea and British New Guinea before World War I, and later becoming the Territory of Papua and New Guinea which was run by the Australians after World War II until gaining independence peacefully in 1975.
Capital: Port Moresby is the capital of Papua New Guinea, and its largest city.
Location: Papua New Guinea is located in the region of Oceania, referring to the group of islands between the Coral Sea and the South Pacific Ocean and east of Indonesia. The island of New Guinea is just North of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula.
Size: Papua New Guinea covers a total area of 462,840 sq km, inclusive of land and water territory. The country covers the eastern part of New Guinea, which is the second largest island in the world. Papua New Guinea covers a larger area than Sweden.
Climate: Papua New Guinea’s climate is almost entirely tropical, with much of the land covered in rainforests. They have a northwest monsoon season from December to March and a southeast monsoon season from May to October bringing plenty of rain throughout the year. Temperatures are lower in the highlands and there are snow fields on some of the islands highest mountains despite being located near the equator.
Population: Papua New Guinea has a population of approximately 5,940,775 people, similar in population size to nations like Togo and Nicaragua.
Life expectancy at birth: Papua New Guinea has an overall life expectancy at birth of 65.75 years. This is comparable to countries like Grenada and Nepal. In general, Papua New Guinean women live on average 5 years longer than men.
Prevalence of HIV/AIDS: Papua New Guinea has a relatively high rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence, with 1.50% of the population living with the disease. This is on par with nations like Mali and Trinidad and Tobago. There are an estimated 54,000 people suffering from the illness in Papua New Guinea and it is the fourth country in its geographical subregion that has been classified as having a generalized AIDS epidemic.
Major illnesses: Papua New Guinea has a high risk of major diseases, with bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A and typhoid fever being among the water and food borne diseases to be wary of. Dengue fever is also a major issue, while Malaria is endemic in every province with between 1.5-1.8 million suspected malaria cases seen in healthcare facilities every year.
Ethnic Groups: Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous nations on the planet. Major ethnic groups include Papuans, Melanesians, Negritos, Micronesians and Polynesians, although this does not include the over 700 remaining ethnic groups present in the country.
Languages: Papua New Guinea has three official languages; Tok Pisin, a local creole language, English and Hiri Motu. In total, there are more than 800 languages in Papua New Guinea, making up over 10% of the total languages in the world. While English is the official language of government, business and education past grade 2 of Primary school, it is only spoken by about 1-2% of the population and Tok Pisin remains the lingua franca.
Religion: Most of the population of Papua New Guinea is Christian, although their belief systems may still retain elements of traditional indigenous practices and beliefs which are usually animist in nature. Based on the 2000 census Roman Catholics make up 27% of the population, Evangelical Lutherans at 19.5%, United Church members at 11.5%, Seventh-Day Adventists 10%, Pentecostal 8.6%, Evangelical Alliance 5.2%, Anglican 3.2%, Baptist 2.5%, other Protestant groups making up 8.9%, Bahai 0.3% and indigenous religions making up 3.3%.
Government: Papua New Guinea is a constitutional parliamentary democracy, as well as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Prime Minister is the holder of executive powers, while the country’s unicameral parliament holds legislative power.
Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II is the current head of state because Papua New Guinea is a member of the Commonwealth. Her royal highness is represented on the island by the governor general, which is currently Sir Paulias Matane who has held his position since June 29, 2004.
Head of Government: The current head of government is Sir Michael Somare who has been the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea since August 2, 2002. He is assisted by the Deputy Prime Minister Puka Temu, who has held his post since August 29, 2007.
Military: Papua New Guinea has a unified military force called the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) which includes Maritime and Air operations elements. There is no conscription in Papua New Guinea and 16 is the minimum age for voluntary military service, although it requires parental consent. Papua New Guinea currently has military expenditures that make up approximately 1.4% of its GDP.
Economy: Papua New Guinea is a developing nation and 85% of the population is currently engaged in agriculture which provides them with a subsistence livelihood. There are small amounts of cash crops, with coffee, cocoa and copra being some of the more lucrative varieties. Papua New Guinea does have large quantities of natural resources, including copper, oil and gold which make up about two thirds of the country’s export earnings. While the rugged terrain makes development difficult, an American oil company-led consortium started construction of a liquefied natural gas production facility in 2009, which could start exporting in 2013 or 2014 and provide a major boost to Papua New Guineas GDP.
GDP: Papua New Guinea’s GDP is approximately $14.02 billion US Dollars by purchasing power parity. This puts it in between Laos at $15.07 billion and Tajikistan at $13.8 billion US Dollars.
Papua New Guinea Travel Tips
Working or visiting a new country is often an exhilarating experience; but it also carries with it an element of difficulty or even risk, particularly if you are unacquainted with a nation’s local customs and laws. Papua New Guinea is an undeveloped country and while there are many things to see and do there, the high rate of crime in the country can pose a problem. In order to make your travels easier, we have provided some general travel advice for people traveling to Papua New Guinea below.
Papua New Guinea sits along the so called “Ring of Fire” in the Pacific Ocean, meaning that earthquakes, volcanic activity and tsunamis are a possibility. The tropical cyclone season which usually falls between November and May, and large tropical storms may cause flooding and landslides. It is advised you seek local expertise on what precautions you should take on your trip.
The threat of terrorism is low in Papua New Guinea, but travelers are advised to be aware of the risk of indiscriminate attacks by terrorists around the globe. These may be targeted at public areas, including places where tourists and expatriates may gather.
Friction between tribal groups in Papua New Guinea is a common occurrence and may break out into violence, particularly in the highland areas such as Enga Province and the Western and Southern Highland provinces. The capital, Port Moresby may occasionally be affected and firearms are frequently involved. It is advisable to avoid traveling in areas where tribal violence is ongoing.
While the rate of crime is high in general, serious crime is a particular problem the larger cities of Lae, Mt. Hagen and the capital city, Port Moresby. Armed carjacking, the stoning of vehicles and criminal roadblocks are a problem, and traveling on the road between Nadzab airport and the city of Lae remains dangerous.
Armed robberies are also a regular occurrence in Lae, Mt. Hagen and Port Moresby, including robberies taking place in restaurants and shops. More organized gangs are appearing and their activities include abducting people for the purpose of forcing them to open office safes as well as taking captives for ransom money.
Rape and gang rape are an ongoing problem throughout the country. It is particularly risky to walk around large towns at night, especially for females or individual travelers. The risk of rape and gang rape is usually lower away from large towns. Females should avoid wearing revealing clothing in general, including beach wear.
Travelers are recommended not to take public transportation in Papua New Guinea. There are public buses known as Private Motor Vehicles (PMVs) which are often poorly maintained and generally considered to be unroadworthy. There have been instances of armed robberies on PMVs, where passengers are attacked and robbed of personal belongings. There have also been cases of rape attacks on PMVs. Taxis are also available in some urban centers, although they are often in poor running condition. While it is recommended you do not use taxis, if you do it is advisable to agree on a price with the taxi driver before entering the vehicle, regardless of whether or not there is a taxi meter.
If you plan to go on a hike along a trail or track, including the scenic Kokoda Trail, verify with a tour operator whether or not the trails are open and safe before you start your trek. Make sure that you have paid any fees necessary before commencing your hike. There have been serious attacks at both the northern and southern ends of the trail and there may still be unexploded ordnance from World War II along the trail; visitors should exercise caution while trekking.
If you are intending to visit Bougainville Island, you should be conscious of the fact that separatist conflicts only recently ended in Bougainville and southern Bougainville still has sporadic occurrences of factional violence. Visitors must contact the Bougainville Provincial Administration with their intention to visit the island and once more when they arrive. The mountainous area near the Paguna mine are considered a ‘No Go Zone’ and should be avoided.
Cholera outbreaks remain widespread in Papua New Guinea and it is advised that you maintain high levels of food and water related hygiene. Make sure to wash your hands after visiting the bathroom, and before eating. Make sure any bottled water you drink has an intact seal, otherwise boil or filter water in a purifier. Avoid ice in drinks, food from suspect sources and any raw fruit and vegetables you cannot peel yourself.
Dengue Fever and Malaria are also a constant threat in Papua New Guinea. These diseases are transmitted via mosquitoes and while there is no cure for them there are preventative measures you can take. It is recommended you visit your personal doctor to talk about any vaccinations or preventative medications you may have to take.
Narcotics such as Marijuana are illegal Papua New Guinea and carry severe sentencing, including lengthy jail sentences and heavy fines.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Papua New Guinea and anybody found guilty could face a jail sentence of up to 14 years.
Travel in Papua New Guinea is generally considered safest when done through organized tour groups or with the help of your sponsor in the country. You should try to dress modestly and avoid wearing jewelry or displaying expensive personal items in public. Because the infrastructure in Papua New Guinea is lacking, it is recommended you obtain comprehensive medical insurance with appropriate cover in case you sustain an injury that requires medical evacuation.