MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is helping the Government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to improve the quality and coverage of its rural health services.

ADB has approved a $20 million loan for the $81.2 million Rural Primary Health Services Delivery Project. The Australian government, represented by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), is providing a grant of $40 million while the OPEC Fund for International Development expects to lend $9.0 million. The Japan International Cooperation Agency and the World Health Organization are providing in-kind grants of $1.2 million and $1.0 million respectively. The PNG government is providing the rest.

Despite the fact that nine of ten people live in the countryside, the rural health system in PNG has been in decline since the 1980s. An estimated 40% of rural health facilities have closed or are not fully functioning.

"People in the countryside have difficulty accessing primary health care services because of poor facilities, and quality services are not available. Inadequate antenatal and postnatal services mean women and children are hardest hit," said Sakiko Tanaka, Social Development Specialist in ADB's Pacific Department. "Better access and better health services will help to change that."

Building on the existing ADB-funded HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control in Rural Development Enclave Project, the project will formalize links between the state and other health providers, such as the private sector, churches, non-government organizations, and civil society.

The project will focus on two districts in each of eight provinces - Eastern Highlands, East Sepik, Enga, Milne Bay, Western Highlands, West New Britain, Morobe, and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

The project will help upgrade existing health facilities, including staff housing, medical equipment and vehicles. Staff based in rural health centers will get training on maternal and child health and HIV/AIDS. Awareness program on sanitation, maternal and child health, and gender will be rolled out in communities.

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