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Should Australia offer to take over Papua New Guinea’s failed health system?

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 3 September 2021

Readers may recall that some months ago I described the Papua New Guinea health system as a "failure". Since then the position would seem to have worsened significantly.

To my mind that raises a serious question both the Australian government, and hopefully the Papua New Guinea government, need to consider.

Given the truly tragic state of the PNG health and hospitals system today should the Australian government offer to effectively take over the system, rebuild and grow it, for a period of three years or so?


I have been advocating Australia should offer to run the Angau Hospital in Lae, one that can help service the basic health needs of a significant proportion of the PNG population.

But I have come to the conclusion that just would not be sufficient, either to help protect the Australian national and strategic interest or the basic health welfare and stability of our closest neighbour.

In this contribution I want to outline just how critical the position is, and potentially how concerning it must be for the government and people of Australia, and especially Northern Australia.

This week a Devpolicy blog written by Stephen Howes and Kingtau Mambon chronicled just how alarming the position in one critical area – infant vaccinations – has become.

Based on World Bank data, Papua New Guinea now has the LOWEST vaccination rates in the world for vaccines for measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus, and hepatitis B! Lower than Somalia, lower than Syria, lower than Chad, lower than Haiti, and lower than South Sudan.

The vaccination rates for infants in Papua New Guinea are 37% for measles, 35% for diphtheria etc and 35% for hepatitis B. Put simply, that puts two thirds of the children of Papua New Guinea at risk from diseases than can be prevented with vaccination, diseas that cause serious illness and death.


Given these alarming figures it will come as no surprise when I outline just how poorly Papua New Guinea is doing when it comes to vaccinating against Covid-19 despite that fact that Australia has generously provided large quantities of vaccines, as has the United States, New Zealand, and China.

In some developing countries, especially in Africa there is a critical shortage of vaccines. That is not the position in Papua New Guinea. Our closest neighbour has sadly had to discard some vaccines as their "use by" debate has expired.

Based on official statistics released irregularly by the PNG disease control centre, the vaccination rate seems to have basically stagnated at around 95,000. There has been little increase in the number of vaccinations in recent weeks. Testing has also slowed right down.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu – Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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