The Old Man
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Closing the gap in PNG: How many children must die?


11-week-old Baby Umi from Bamio in the Western ProvinceTHERE'S BEEN a great deal of hand-wringing and expressions of sympathy about Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's admirable statement about "Closing the Gap"

But closing the gap between whom?

Compare some basic statistics about child mortality between Australia and our near territory and closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea.

Infant mortality is defined as the death of a child under one year of age. For New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory from 2006–10, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rate was eight infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

This compares with a non-Indigenous infant mortality rate of four infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

Over the last ten years, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infant mortality rate in the selected states and territories has decreased from ten deaths in 2001 to seven deaths in 2010 per 1,000 live births.

But in Papua New Guinea, 58 out of every 1000 children will die before reaching school age, compared with five in Australia.

These children die from preventable illness such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia. They also die of measles - a $1 vaccine would have protected them.

Overall, more than one baby in 20 dies before age two (see further here and here).

So the child mortality rate in PNG is more than 10 times greater than that in Australia.

PNG has one doctor for every 17,000 people, compared to 20 per 20,000 in Fiji and one per 300 in Australia.

Health expenditure is US$49 per capita, compared to $107 in the Solomon Islands, $154 in Fiji and $4,775 in Australia.

Life expectancy is 62 for males and 65 for females, compared to 81.7 in Australia.

PNG has 0.58 health workers per 1,000 people – WHO recommends 2.5 per 1,000 simply to maintain primary care.

And in PNG, 30% of people live on less than $1 a day – whereas the average weekly Australian income at last count was $1,234.

So, Mr Abbott, so intent on closing gaps, why is your government cutting back on health services to Papua New Guinea?

Just asking.


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William Dunlop

And the buck stops with the elected PNG body politic -
O'Neill and his cohorts.

Australia handed Somare a fully funded and very efficiently
functioning Public Service.

Michael Dom

If this pharmaceutical farce is the PNG governments solution for unchecked population growth then it just might work.

And does the governments inaction smack of Taoist philosophy: "Act without taking action / And things will be in order."

Is there no ISO standard for common sense?

Forgive me if I'm ranting but for obvious reasons I'm off my medication.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Those are shocking statistics but with respect Peter, the financial resources in PNG exist to ameliorate the situation. What is missing is a sense of empathy among the politicians and a lack of nouse among the public servants.

You know the old adage about teaching a man to fish rather than just giving him fish. If Australia props up the health system it will never improve. People will just sit back and let them do it. You can't help people who won't help themselves.

Besides, Abbott's solution would be something along the lines of encouraging economic growth (his answer to everything).

Mrs Barbara Short

One can only hope that the present Australian government will find a way to raise health standards in PNG despite all the failings of the present Department of Health and the lack of understanding and capabilities of the present Minister for Health.
Obviously direct action is the way to go. Australian Doctors International could help.

Robin Lillicrapp

Man's inhumanity to man, eh?

Again, an example of the disconnect between politics and people as the resource exploitation process alienates the benefits from those needful of them.

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