Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Working together to achieve healthcare equity for all

  • 20 April 2021
  Here in Australia, we’re lucky to be in the midst of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Although it’s too soon to say for certain, we’ve also got better at controlling new outbreaks, and our lockdowns are getting faster and more efficient.

But for people living in Papua New Guinea, one of our closest neighbours, the situation is very different. Since late February, case numbers have been increasing rapidly. In the past week alone, infection numbers have increased exponentially, bringing the total to more than 9300. At least 89 lives have been lost.

The stark differences between Australia and Papua New Guinea during this crisis are a reminder of how far we still have to go to make sure that all humans, no matter where they’re born, have access to decent healthcare. This crisis is also a reminder of how big the gap is between us and our closest neighbour — a country a mere hop, skip and jump from our shoreline, yet one that few Australians visit. Of the Australians that do visit Papua New Guinea, fewer still venture from tourist hotspots like the Kokoda Trail.

Despite its proximity, the average citizen in Papua New Guinea lives a radically different life to those of us here in Australia. According to the most recent government survey, it’s one of the least electrified countries in the world, where only 15 per cent of people have regular access to electricity. Out of all of the Pacific islands, Papua New Guinea also has the lowest rates of access to clean drinking water — a mere 46 per cent of the population. Frequent natural disasters, poor transportation and limitations in healthcare and education further compound the existing inequalities. Worryingly, one-third of the population lives in households without a place to wash hands that has both soap and water.

It’s easy to see why providing a timely and effective response to COVID-19 might be difficult, but the challenges in the healthcare system in particular make responding effectively even harder. Many locals struggle to access basic health services because they live in remote areas, or because the health system is under-resourced. There’s also a worrying lack of health professionals, with approximately one doctor per 14,000 people, leaving healthcare staff with few resources to manage the overwhelming need.

Already fragile, the healthcare system in Papua New Guinea is now reaching breaking point. Most people prefer to get their COVID-19 tests in private clinics