Shortage of Doctors and shortage of specialist doctors in certain medical fields in Papua New Guinea
Currently, there is a massive disparity in the output of medical doctors graduating each year in comparison to the population growth. Annual Population growth rate is 2.7 to 3% which equates to nearly 300,000 new births here in Papua New Guinea every year. The recent estimated population of 14 million as reported recently should not be overlooked but it needs to be proven.
At present, new university graduates graduating to become medical doctors every year ranges from 50 to 60 (this includes graduates from UPNG medical school and recently the Divine World University medical school, combined).
Some years ago, the doctor to population ratio was one doctor to a population of 17, 000 people. This ratio has not reduced. It would not be a surprise to state that the current ratio is one doctor to 25, 000 people.
Currently, the required and needed minimum graduates coming out as doctors should be 200 to 300 per year if the National Government's Vision 2030 or 2050 and the National Health Plan 2030 are to be reached. However, in the name of quantity, the country must also be wary of quality. That is why GPs exist in universities as points requirement for a course study.
The current attrition doctor rates from the public health system is from the following; doctors seeking greener pastures in the private sector and going overseas, and few starting their own private practice. Despite the national government's award for national doctors, outside of the public health system even looks greener.
The National Doctors awards has reduced the attrition rate but with the global shortage of doctors, PNG will still lose doctors. The government must address this. The national doctors award negotiations is still pending and has not reached its final conclusion, it must be done as a matter of priority.
PNG's only medical school that started graduating medical doctors and dentists in the 1960s and before that in Fiji, and these graduates, some have passed on, few have retired, and most will retire soon in the likes of Professor Sir Isi Kevau. Some of these doctors have gone past their retirement age but for humanity and need they are still serving Papua New Guinea in clinical, academia, research and administrative duties. They should be acknowledged.
Doctors are also humans, they will circumvent all sorts of pressures and illness too. In the last three years, 34 doctors have died. This has put a dent in the doctors' numbers in this country.
And, even made worse by 40 doctors who lost the 2022 National General Election from the 44 that contested. A huge number never seen in the history of this profession. The 40 doctors can not return to public health service because of a draconian law passed by our legislators in the last Parliament banning public servants who contested the last election not to return to public service now but can do so after 5 years. What a mockery to our democracy and what a mockery to freedom of choice. And, a huge loss of doctors in the public health systems. Some of these doctors are specialist doctors critically needed right now. National Parliament, you can do better than this.
Some medical specialties in radiology, pathology, anesthesiology, otolaryngology head and neck surgery, oral maxillofacial surgery, ophthalmology, public health, cardiology, neurology, cancer specialists and few more are very short in number in Papua New Guinea. The Department of Personnel Management must increase the postgraduate training positions to 200 so that PNG must catch up with the annual population growth rate.
An, with the recent announcement by the national government to now start work on the standalone National Medical University;
Congratulations on the continuum on the O'Neil Government passed NEC decision to make the School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), a standalone university that UPNG took a court stay order on when the decision was made. With the current PM Marape - Rosso Government, it has convinced UPNG to lift the court order and further progress this momentunal decision. Everyone involved should be congratulated on this; O'Neil government, and his PM department team - to mention Frank Aisi, NEC, UPNG, Cuba visit team, former chief secretary Ambassador Isaac Lupari, Marape-Rosso Government, SMHS, ministerial support staff in health, HERST, Minister for Health - past and current - Honorable MP Tom Lino, ministerial support staff, Department of Health under Secretary Pascoe Kase and now Dr. Osborne Liko. And, not forgetting Port Moresby General Hospital who was and is fully behind this development. Everyone stood for what was right for PNG.
The tasks now are several folds for this new stand alone medical University to come to reality; funding, infrastructure development, human resource development, governance development, bylaws development, curriculum migration from UPNG and redevelopment, international accreditation, and medical institutions and colleges to affiliate to the National Medical University, and to name a few too.
National Doctors Association congratulates the Marape - Rosso Government for continuing to work on the establishment of a national medical university, a work left by the O'Neil government. This National Medical University will start to develop and produce various types of workforce needed for the health sector.
And, in the meantime;
The national government must look after and retain the national doctors in the national health system. And also, create employment positions, right now dentist and some medical doctors are also looking for jobs in the public health system
Whilst the concern in this is for doctors, the country also needs specialised nursing officers and specialized health allied workforce which is a huge concern too, respectively.
Right now, the health workforce is 11, 000. By 2030, the health workforce must reach 25, 000 as targeted by the new National Health Plan. All stakeholders and partners must come together to achieve this.
Dr. James Naipao
National Doctors Association
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