The Evolution of the Community Health Worker program in Papua New Guinea (2017)

Cathy Lepi Pilang, Marion Grey, Florin Oprescu

Remote and Rural Health November 2017 Volume 17 Issue 4

OpenAccess version here.

Papua New Guinea (PNG) has a special history in regard to the training of Community Health Workers (CHWs) and is currently preparing its frontline health workforce to serve the 85% of the total PNG population of 7.3 million people who live in rural and remote settings. This article identifies and explains the five major developmental stages in the current CHW training program, as well as the changes that have occurred over the past century. The developmental stages are: (1) traditional; (2) early contact; (3) innovation; (4) the 1980s; and (5) new millennium. These developmental stages are discussed in the context of the early literature and investigation by the primary author and examination of the lived experiences of early missionary health workers and local people. This paper documents the development of a CHW program in PNG from the colonisation period, which began in 1883, to the present day. As a developing nation, PNG has gone through many challenges and changes to its healthcare system and has gradually developed an effective program to train its frontline primary health care (PHC) workforce. This article contributes new information with regard to the past and current development of CHW programs in PNG as well as in other developing countries. The training of competent CHWs with the essential skills and knowledge may help deliver quality and cost-effective PHC services to the rural majority and the urban disadvantaged, thereby fulfilling the PNG government’s National Health Plan for 2011-2020. Systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of the CHW program will provide guidance for continued development of this frontline health workforce. Improving and introducing a competency-based curriculum is an essential step towards building a healthier nation.


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