PNG's National Health Plan launched

17 to 19 August 2010

Health official meeting with society members

Dr Shin Young-soo visited Papua New Guinea from 17-19 August, where he was invited by the government to give an official address at the launch of the National Health Plan 2011-2020. Supporting PNG in addressing its health challenges is a high priority for WHO and Dr Shin was pleased to be making his second official visit to the country since he became Regional Director in 2009.

The launch of the new National Health Plan by the Deputy Prime Minister, Don Polye, on behalf of the Government marked a watershed for all involved. WHO, along with the other health development partners in PNG, has supported the Government in this process over the past few years.

During his official address, Dr Shin emphasized the importance of striking a balance between primary health care and specialized care. "Study after study has shown that investing in primary care is by far the most cost effective means of improving health – particularly for the most disadvantaged, he said. "Specialized care and tertiary care are important but can be very expensive and can be a great drain on resources."

Dr Shin meets with WHO staff in PNG

The likely economic development of Papua New Guinea with revenues from liquefied natural gas and similar projects will provide great opportunities, Dr Shin remarked. But to ensure the optimal utilization of the wealth generated, important choices will have to be made.

Dr Shin said he was hopeful that the newly launched National Health Plan would help the Government in setting priorities and in providing a long-term vision to health care planning.

Dr Shin reported that he was encouraged to learn of the 100% increase in funding for rural health over the past three years through health function grants. "If this visionary and ambitious plan is to achieve significant health gains for the population, it must be implemented at the district and community level," he said.

During the trip, Dr Shin also met with Minister of Health Sasa Zibe, Secretary of Health Dr Clement Malau and other senior officials. He also spent time with the WHO staff in the office. Dr Shin and the team bade a fond farewell to Dr Eigil Sorensen, who retired in August after four and a half years as the WHO Representative in Papua New Guinea, and after a long and illustrious career in international public health.

Health care in Papua New Guinea

Huli dancers

The Independent State of Papua New Guinea is the largest nation in the Pacific with a population of 6.4 million people. It is located on the eastern side of New Guinea Island in the South West Pacific Ocean, sharing its western boarder with the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya.

Papua New Guinea, and its 600 over islands, is one of the most diverse countries on Earth, with over 850 indigenous languages and at least as many traditional societies. About 85% of Papua New Guinea leads subsistence agricultural lifestyles. Surplus food production is traded in informal cash economies and this makes up the bulk of financial activity in the country.

The National Department of Health (NDoH) is responsible for coordinating inputs and programs in the health sector. It is a decentralized health care system where the provinces are responsible for funding and running of rural health services, although central government provides some funding.

Papua New Guinea faces a number of health challenges and is working very closely with WHO to provide the relevant expertise and develop the appropriate systems and tools and advocating policy change. The various areas where WHO and NDoH work closely together include communicable diseases (HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and cholera), health systems strengthening, health laboratory technology and blood safety, maternal health and immunization.

While progress has been made towards the attainment of the MDGs, considerable work still has to be done if PNG is to attain the goals. One of the biggest health challenges is in the area of maternal health. Sadly, five women die everyday in labor or as a result of pregnancy-related complications. This makes Papua New Guinea the nation with the highest maternity mortality rate in the whole of the Western Pacific Region.

To counter this, the Ministerial Task Force on Maternal Health has put in great efforts to improve the situation. At the same time, a Command Center on maternal health is currently being established. The Government is also considering running trials of incentive schemes to encourage women to attend antenatal care and have their babies in health facilities.