Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. It is estimated that more than a thousand cultural groups exist in the country. Most of these cultural groups have their own language.
PNG is also one of the most rural countries, as only 18 percent of its people live in urban centres. People typically live in villages that rely on subsistence farming.
Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s least explored countries, culturally and geographically, and many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior.
Traditional religions are usually animistic. Some also have elements of ancestor worship. Prevalent among traditional tribes is the belief in masalai, or evil spirits, which are blamed for “poisoning” people, causing calamity and death, and the practice of sorcery. While many Papua New Guineans claim Christianity as their religion, in reality they usually continue to practice their animistic beliefs long after “conversion,” leading to a mix of the two religions known as “syncretism.” Most Papua New Guineans see nothing wrong with this mix, and many incorporate Biblical figures, especially Mary, into their ceremonies. Traditional spirit houses known as haus tamburan often become “churches” for worshipping God, Mary, saints, and any spirits or gods which were already part of the local belief system.
On the Sepik river, there is a tradition of wood carving, often in the form of plants or animals, representing ancestor spirits.
People of the Highlands engage in colourful local rituals called sing sings. They paint themselves and dress up with feathers, pearls and animal skins to represent birds, trees or mountain spirits. Sometimes an important event, such as a legendary battle, is enacted at such a musical festival.
The country’s geography is diverse and, in places, extremely rugged. A spine of mountains, the New Guinea Highlands, runs the length of the island. Dense rainforests can be found in the lowland and coastal areas, as can very large wetland areas.
Transport in Papua New Guinea is heavily limited by the country’s mountainous terrain. Port Moresby, the capital city, is not linked by road to any of the other major towns, and many remote villages can only be reached by light aircraft or on foot. As a result, air travel is the single most important form of transport. In addition to two international airfields, Papua New Guinea has 578 airstrips, most of which are unpaved.
The country is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire, at the point of collision of several tectonic plates. There are a number of active volcanoes, and eruptions are frequent. Earthquakes are relatively common, sometimes accompanied by tsunamis.
Papua New Guinea is one of the few regions close to the equator that experience snowfall, which occurs in the most elevated parts of the mainland.
Gender Related Violence
Papua New Guinea is often labelled as potentially the worst place in the world for gender violence. A 2013 study found that 41% of men on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, reported having raped a non-partner while 14.1% reported having committed gang rape. According to UNICEF, nearly half of reported rape victims are under 15 years of age and 13% are under 7 years of age, while a report by ChildFund Australia claimed 50% of those seeking medical help after rape are under 16, 25% are under 12 and 10% are under 8.
Papua New Guinea has 1 doctor per 17,068 people.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), PNG has the worst health status in the Pacific region. PNG ranks 157 out of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, worse than Bangladesh and Myanmar.
PNG ranks in the bottom 15 countries in Save the Children’s Health Workers Reach Index.
Maternal mortality: PNG’s maternal mortality ratio is worse than India’s, with almost half of all women giving birth without the assistance of a doctor or midwife.
Infant mortality: 5.5% of babies will die before age 2 (UNDP).
Communicable diseases: Tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases cause 62% of deaths nationwide.
Water-borne diseases: Only 33% of rural people have access to clean water, a major factor in the 2009 cholera outbreak, whilst diarrhoea is the seventh biggest killer.
Women in PNG are particularly disadvantaged, as evidenced by poor maternal health and lack of access to family planning. The maternal mortality ratio is 230 per 100,000, whilst doctors and other health professionals from the PNG National Department of Health estimate that least five women die in childbirth every day .
42% of women do not give birth at a health facility or hospital
22% of pregnant women do not receive any formal antenatal care
10% of all deaths in PNG are due to perinatal conditions
4.6 is the average number of children per woman
Babies and Children
Children are five times more likely to die in countries hit by a health worker crisis, and PNG is no exception. In 2005, 14,000 of 15,000 child deaths in the Pacific region occurred in PNG. Pneumonia and diarrhoea, together with underlying malnutrition, are the most important causes of post-neonatal death in young children in PNG.
63 deaths per 1,000 live births in children under five
56.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in infants under one
Almost half of children aged 6-59 months are stunted
Malaria is endemic in every province in PNG, with an average of 1.5-1.8 million suspected cases of malaria seen at health care facilities annually.
Malaria incidence is 151 cases per 1,000 people in PNG in 2013
38.5 deaths due to malaria per 100,000 people
#1 cause of all outpatient visits (2008) and #3 cause of death (2008), with a mortality rate of 9.7 per 100,000 population
TB is a major public health concern in PNG.
534:100,000 prevalence rate
19,689 notifications of TB (all forms) in PNG in 2012
#2 cause of in-patient bed occupancy in hospitals in 2008
TB poses a serious threat to HIV positive people (TB-HIV co infection)
HIV and AIDS
Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of HIV/AIDs in the Pacific, with overall adult prevalence at nearly 1% of the population
0.94% prevalence rate among pregnant women attending antenatal clinics in 2013
13.6 deaths due to HIV/AIDS per 100,000 people
High incidence of sexual assaults on women contributes to their risk of catching HIV or another STI.
Health and Sanitation
In 2009 PNG was affected by a cholera outbreak that spread across eight provinces with approximately 14,000 cases reported in health facilities and communities.
33% of people in rural areas use an improved water drinking source
40% of people nationwide use an improved water drinking source
41% of people in rural areas use an improved sanitation facility