Health and Medicine

Student finding health solutions for remote PNG

A passionate healthcare worker in Papua New Guinea is using her Murdoch University studies to find better ways to help her country.

Emma Wakpi, who has spent the past 13 years working in health implementation and education in remote mountainous areas of Papua New Guinea, is completing a Masters degree at the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs at Murdoch University.

Although Ms Wakpi is already quite influential in the Papua New Guinean health service, she realised that improving her qualifications in the health policy area was essential.

She presented her views about the development challenges of her home country recently at the Australian Institute for International Affairs in Perth.

“It is not the remoteness of some PNG tribes that prevents good health outcomes. More than anything else it is trust, cultural sensitivity and language that are barriers to improvements in health,” Ms Wakpi said.

“However, the inhospitable terrain doesn’t help! It is common for 90 per cent of available funding to be used in just getting aid and supplies to remote villagers, particularly when the weather turns bad and rivers swell.”

Ms Wakpi explained how supplies are delivered by teams of people, where they are broken down into manageable pieces that can be carried by one person across forest and river.

“It is incredibly challenging to find health professionals who are willing to go to the remotest areas. The work is tough and the villages are very isolated so this is not work for people who are used to big cities,” she said.

“However the real battle lies in influencing the development of government policy and in advising funders.”

Ms Wakpi said that although the Papua New Guinean government controlled most of the health and health education services, they relied on community groups to deliver services in the regions.

“Around 46 per cent of all health work is done by non-government groups, particularly church-based groups, and 80 per cent of all remote health services are done by these groups. Similarly, all community health worker schools and 80 per cent of nursing colleges are operated by church-based agencies in Papua New Guinea,” she explained.

“Funding agencies, particularly governments like Australia, are rightly results oriented. However, they are gradually realising that a lot of money needs to be spent whilst results are only incremental.

“Funders are also realising more and more that they must take a long term view when looking at solutions. Culture and language barriers must be broken down and logistical barriers overcome before finally lasting solutions can be put in place.”

Ms Wakpi believes Papua New Guineans need to be aware of their own health and the opportunities available to help themselves.

After completing her studies at Murdoch University, she hopes to help them petition their own government to prioritise health in government policy and spending.

Source: Murdoch Univesity

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