We have known for at least a decade that we would be running into a shortage of health workers (see recent article in PNG Attitude here).
Millions of kina have been spent in the last five years or more on meetings and workshops by the Health Department on this issue, and there is still no official directive.
The minister has expressed concern and announced recently that a national policy will be released soon.
The report in PNG Attitude had at least one misleading comment. We are led to believe that it has only been due to the release of Australian funding that midwives will be graduating this year. This is a blatant untruth.
AusAID funding has been a welcome relief with sponsorship of students, provision of academic staff and now infrastructure development; however this is only for midwifery.
The training of doctors at UPNG is severely hampered by a lack of teaching staff (currently 50% of positions are vacant), deteriorating infrastructure and inadequate financial support (UPNG itself is in the red by K70 million).
The current ceiling for an intake of 50 students a year cannot be exceeded under current conditions. It is only surviving due to supplemental support from AusAID through its HECS (Health Education & Clinical Support) program.
The training of rural Health Extension Officers is also hampered by inadequate clinical training releasing poorly prepared graduates out into the workplace.
A report several years ago commissioned by Divine Word University was quietly shelved as was a report by the Office of Higher Education. Some effort has been made to deal with this but it requires systemic change.
Nursing schools have been poorly funded and supported. We need the opening of more nursing schools. Last year 200 positions for nurses were advertised for Port Moresby General Hospital; there were no applicants at all.
This is compounded by problems with Nursing Council registration in which midwives had been trained for several years but were unable to be registered.
Lastly, the 14 community health worker training schools are all run by the churches and are in considerable difficulty keeping their heads above water.
Moreover there are no mechanisms in place to systematically monitor and ensure regular updating of knowledge and skills of all levels of health workers (from doctors to community health workers).
There are no provisions to have regular licensing requirements so that in fact most of the aging workforce is probably redundant in terms of knowledge and skills.
And still the Health Department has not released an official report as to how it plans to systematically fix the human resources problem.