Papua New Guinea (PNG) has the highest maternal and child mortality rates and lowest life expectancy among Pacific island countries. With about 85% of its population living in rural and often remote areas, providing access to quality health care is a major challenge. 

The government is implementing health sector reforms and investing to expand access to health services. Working with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Government of Australia, PNG is upgrading rural health facilities, training health workers, and rolling out an electronic health information system.

"Expanding Access to Health Care in Papua New Guinea" is the second installment in the PNG-ADB partnership video series. The series presents ADB's contributions to the development of the Papua New Guinea's energy, health, and transport sectors, as well as its drive for financial inclusion and private sector-led development.

ADB and Papua New Guinea have been working together since 1971. And the partnership continues to grow.


Western Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea – Papua New Guinea has the lowest life expectancy and highest maternal and child mortality rates among Pacific island countries. Infectious diseases like tuberculosis are prevalent in some provinces together with chronic diseases like heart disease and stroke. With about 85% of its population living in rural and often remote areas, providing access to quality health care is a major challenge. 

"Before there’s no health facility in this location. The mothers from this village if they are lucky the nearest facility is half an hour drive," says Philip Talpa, District CEO of Tambul District, Western Highlands Province.

Rural villagers, especially mothers, struggle to access health services. Health facilities were often basic, lacking equipment and sometimes closed. 

"I needed to travel to Mt. Hagen to visit a health clinic for my first two babies,” says Kala Nikindi, a mother of three from Palex Community. “Bus fare going to town is expensive. And it was difficult to travel with the road condition." 

The Government of Papua New Guinea is committed to improving access to health services across the country. Its recent investments, together with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Australia, are building 39 primary health care facilities across nine provinces. New facilities have access to renewable energy and clean water, and improved equipment, staff housing and security. Over 200 health workers have been trained in obstetrics and emergency care. There is a renewed focus on primary health care and health promotion in rural communities.

"The mentality of the men is they want more children,” says Maria Talpa, a liaison officer in the Rural Primary Health Service Program. “We have conducted a training here. We have talked to them about sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and everything else. I think people are beginning to realize that life is not just about producing kids and let them loose around this place."

ADB is continuing its partnership with the government and Australia to improve health outcomes.

David Hill, ADB's Country Director in Papua New Guinea, says the Health Services Sector Development Program will continue the investments to improve health clinics  and scale up to do district hospitals. "In addition, we have twinned it with a policy-based loan of some $300 million over three years, which will be supporting general fiscal as well as health sector reforms."

The program will continue to promote innovations in electronic health information systems to support Papua New Guinea’s digital transformation. With real time information, increased management capacity, and health facilities that meet national standards, Papua New Guinea will be able to provide quality health services to rural communities and improve health outcomes for all.