Short supply of trained health workers in Papua New Guinea
More health workers and researchers needed to deal with rapidly growing problem of con-communicable diseases in PNG.
Researchers say there are not enough trained health workers in Papua New Guinea to deal with the rapidly growing problem of non-communicable diseases.
Staff at the University of Auckland's School of Population Health presented findings from projects they have been involved with in PNG.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
Professor Robert Scragg has been working in PNG studying the health effects of the PNG LNG project. The main purpose of the project was to monitor the health of communities around LNG sites, and to train PNG researchers. He says funding for the project was cut off much sooner than expected, but they have collected enough information to document the health status of the communities studied. Professor Scragg says there's a huge variation in cardio-vascular risk factors between more developed communities, and communities which are less developed and live more traditional lifestyles.
ROBERT SCRAGG: We're seeing that well documented demographic transition, from less developed lifestyle, where people are healthier in terms of cardiovascular diseases, to a more developed lifestyle around Port Moresby, where people are basically living a Westernised existence with high fat intake and all the consequences that go along with that.
Professor Chris Bullen has done research around how SMS text messages could help health workers in PNG manage the treatment of malaria, and hopes to look at how this might help with treatment of NCDs. He says for countries like PNG that are rapidly modernising, people's diets and ways of life are changing.
CHRIS BULLEN: Consequently they're acquiring the Western diseases that we've been grappling with for the last 40 or 50 years, like heart disease and diabetes and so forth, but it's happening in sort of accelerated fashion, on top of already a heavy burden of communicable diseases, like malaria, tuberculosis, etc.
Professor Scragg says it's clear that NCDs are becoming much more common around the Pacific, including PNG, but most international organisations' focus for PNG is on HIV/AIDS. And he says PNG's Institute of Medical Research, which is excellent, is also primarily focused on infectious diseases.
ROBERT SCRAGG: But it doesn't have the capacity to develop researchers that can actually study the emerging problem of non-communicable diseases. And that was one of the things that we were hoping to come out of this project, we haven't given up hope that will happen, but obviously things have to take a different route in terms of finding funding to support the training of researchers in this area.
Professor Chris Bullen says even in New Zealand, the health system is not coping with the impact of diseases like diabetes in certain populations, so it's frightening how quickly the problem is growing in PNG. He says health staff are currently overwhelmed and under-resourced to deal with NCDs like heart disease and diabetes.
CHRIS BULLEN: There's just not enough trained health workers, there's just not enough trained health researchers with expertise in this area, and lacking in the kind of guidelines and protocols and the pretty sophisticated level of diagnostic and treatment resources that we have here in New Zealand...and it's happening very, very quickly, it's not just going to take 40 years, these changes are happening at sort of an accelerated fashion as people are exposed to modernity.
He says the good work that's already being done with communicable diseases in PNG needs to be incorporated with NCDs as well.
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