Over 35 children under the age of five years, including over 20 infants, die each day from illnesses and conditions that could be prevented. The major child killers are malaria, diarrhoea, pneumonia, measles, low birth weight and, since recent times HIV/AIDS. Of those who survive, thousands become debilitated, malnourished and disabled. Malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies, is prevalent and a complicating factor in most of the deaths.
There are wide variations in infant and child death rates in the country. In rural areas, the under-five and infant child death rates are 97 and 63 per 1,000 live births respectively, compared to 36 and 29 in urban areas. Large variations in infant death rates also exist between and within provinces from 22 to as high as 100 per 1,000 births.
Over 15 percent of babies are born with low birth weight reflecting the state of their mothers’ health and nutrition and underlining the importance of focusing on pregnancy outcomes as a strategy to ensure improved survival of young children and their mothers.
Malnutrition affects nearly 30 per cent of all children under the age of five. Poverty, inadequate access to health care and lack of understanding of good dietary practices such as breastfeeding, complementary feeding and the need for micronutrients contribute to this high figure.
Poor sanitation and low access to safe water contribute to high prevalence of diarrhea and worm infestations. In rural areas, where 87 percent of the population lives, only nine percent of water is potable while the mean for the entire country stands at 17 percent. Most rural households depend on unsafe water from rivers, springs, ponds, lakes or dams. Only 39 percent of rural households have access to a latrine, while the mean for the country is 45 percent.
Supplemental immunization activities have boosted immunization coverage levels above 90 percent for most of the country’s provinces but coverage of routine immunization services remains low and unstable.
Malaria is endemic in most provinces and is the single greatest contributor to the burden of disease in Papua New Guinea. Efforts by the Government and partners are focusing on expanding the coverage of insecticide treated nets, instituting intermittent preventive treatment during pregnancy, and appropriate timely health seeking practices when ill.
UNICEF’s assistance focuses on improving pregnancy outcomes through a comprehensive package of services which enhance the health of the mother and improve the birth weight and survival of the newborn baby. UNICEF also supports preventive programmes including, immunization, proper child feeding, water supply and sanitation and the wide use of insecticide-treated nets. It also supports an integrated approach for HIV/AIDS prevention, mainstreamed Maternal and Child Health care. If children access these services, they will grow up safe, healthy and strong.