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Polio in PNG

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In a recent article in the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter, Kaveri Devi Mishra explained how the news of pulse polio resurfacing in Papua New Guinea has created new challenges for a public health care system already confronting many related health problems.

Polio virus is a potentially deadly disease that can spread through communities, causing paralysis and disability, mostly among vulnerable young children.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed the outbreak, almost 18 years since PNG was declared a polio-free nation.

Papua New Guinea is already ranked by the WHO as having the worst health status in the Pacific region.

The polio outbreak comes at a time when the country is also facing huge challenges from diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis (TB), cancer, diarrhoeal diseases, pneumonia, and HIV/AIDS.

By landmass, population and economy, PNG is the largest nation among Pacific island countries, yet the country’s health indicators have either stalled or gone backwards over the past 30 years.

There is only one doctor per 17,068 people in PNG, which is exceedingly insignificant.

PNG has 0.58 health workers per 1000, whereas the WHO recommends 2.5 health professionals per 1000 people for maintaining primary health care.

Ms Mishra says that India might offer a model for eradication. While it was once a hotbed for the polio virus, a massive, nationwide campaign of eradication in India saw it eventually declared polio-free in 2011.

But precautionary measures are still in place. Given India’s population is 1.2 billion and PNG’s is only 8 million, surely PNG can likewise apply stringent measures against polio