How to stay healthy in Papua New Guinea → Read this

It's no surprise that medical facilities in PNG - a developing nation - are basic. The capital, Port Moresby and the larger towns have hospitals. While these are adequate for routine problems and most emergencies, equipment failure and sudden shortages of common medications can lead to problems.

Even routine treatments and common procedures (e.g. X-rays) may be temporarily unavailable. Smaller regional centres have health clinics and remote centres only have first aid posts.

Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical services.

Pharmacies are often small and inadequately stocked. They are found only in urban centres and at missionary clinics.

Apart from disease, no matter how fit or healthy you are, accidents happen and

medical evacuation to Australia is often the only option. Medical evacuation can cost between several thousand dollars to eighty thousand dollars depending on the circumstances.

The most common travellers ailments in PNG are tropical skin infections, malaria and abdominal upsets. Infectious diseases including HIV, hepatitis B, tuberculosis and tetanus are a problem in PNG. But, if the necessary precautions are taken, tourists are unlikely to come into direct contact with these illnesses.

Before you to travel to PNG, you should visit a doctor or travel clinic for advice on disease prevention overseas. This will include immunisation and booster doses of childhood vaccinations. It will also include advice on the specific medication to take prior to, during and after travel to PNG.

Tropical skin infections are common in PNG. Minor nicks or scratches on the skin quickly become infected. In the humid tropics, standard antiseptic creams are virtually useless and immediate application of antibiotic cream or antibiotic powder is recommended.

When visiting remote villages, you'll inevitably come across both adults and children with infected skin wounds. To win friends and influence people, carry a spare tube of broad spectrum antibiotic cream or powder to share with the locals.

In view of the distances between remote villages and the nearest health clinic, most locals will appreciate the application of a few dressings.

Diving on tropical reefs poses the inevitable danger of a scratch or two. When coral is the culprit, infections are inevitable.

If standard medication is unavailable or doesn't seem to be working, a topical application of pounded paw-paw seeds (fresh or dry) gets rid of necrosed tissue and facilitates healing.

Malaria is common throughout PNG. Malaria is an infectious disease caused by protozoa of the genus Plasmodium. The single-celled parasite can only survive in the salivary glands of the female Anopheles mosquito, or in the human liver and bloodstream. It is passed on to humans by the saliva of the mosquito when it bites.

The most effective remedy is to avoid being bitten. This is done by applying the recommended insect repellents and sleeping under a mosquito net. In addition, anti-malaria tablets should be taken.

In the past, the drug chloroquine "a derivative of quinine" was effective in the prevention and treatment of malaria. Nowadays, the two most common strains of malaria in PNG (P. falciparum and P. vivax) have developed a degree of resistance to chloroquine. Although this means that the drug is no longer as effective as it once was in prophylaxis and treatment of malaria as it once was, it's still recommended.

The common antibiotics doxycycline and vibramycin have been shown to be effective as malaria prophylactics. Taken daily, these have the added advantage of preventing bacterial infections.

Before travelling to PNG, consult your doctor or visit a traveller's medical centre to obtain the current best advice regarding malaria prophylaxis.

Abdominal upsets affect some travellers to PNG. Most arise from drinking dirty water. Dirty water carries giardia, shigella, cholera and typhoid so beware of what you drink. If you're worried, drink bottled water.

But remember that in Port Moresby and most of the large towns, the locals seem to get by drinking the town-water without suffering any ill effects. When trekking drink bottled water or boil the local water (don't forget to let it cool a bit let it cool) beforehand.

In the villages, the water is usually drawn from underground springs and is safe unless polluted by stormwater.

Travellers prone to diarrhoea are advised to carry medications such as Lomotil or Imodium.

Village food is unlikely to cause diarrhoea symptoms since the produce is eaten while fresh and cooked by boiling or baking under hot stones.

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