Reflection From The Editor & Chairperson Of The Symposium Scientific Subcommittee

Dr Moses Laman

Dear friends and colleagues,

This year we are delighted to welcome you to the 54th PNG Medical Symposium in Madang. “Rural Health Services” is our theme for the 2018 Medical Symposium. Coincidentally, this is the third time the PNG Medical Society has chosen the “Rural” theme to be held in Madang. The two previously symposiums under the themes “Rural Health Services” and “Rural Health and Continuing
Medical Education” were held in Madang in 1987 and 1996, respectively.

Nevertheless, the theme “Rural Health Services” is still highly relevant at the present time. Particularly over the past four decades, we have sadly seen a decline in the accessibility and quality of rural health services in many parts of PNG and it is only appropriate that the PNG Medical Society continues to recognise the many health challenges our rural population continues to encounter. Many health experts think the decline of rural health services in PNG was accelerated by the decentralisation of health services from the national to the provincial governments where a lack of capacity at the district and provincial levels to manage a complex sector such as Health was the single most important contributing factor. Regardless of which side of the debate you align with, the reasons can also be multifactorial. Years of neglect means the challenges we currently face today are much greater compared to what it was like in 1987 and 1996 during those symposiums in Madang. The population has increased by four-folds since independence in 1975 while health facilities in remote settings have mostly deteriorated or remained the same in terms of infrastructure development. Funding limitations, lack of political commitment, procurement bottlenecks and management challenges continue to be significant obstacles while the limited number of health workers in rural PNG amid worsening law and order situations in many parts of the country and lack of other essential services such as good schools for their children, are few of the many challenges contributing to our difficulties of improving rural health services in PNG.

Despite this, it is really important that we keep discussing and addressing these challenges in order to find ways of improving the situation as well as to help us avoid becoming ‘immune’ to the deteriorating health services in rural PNG and accepting this as ‘normal’ because it is not, particularly for a rich developing country like ours. Therefore, in this year’s symposium, we are greatly honoured to have outstanding individuals who will be presenting their past experiences and research papers so that we at present and those in the future can learn, with the aim of improving the standard of rural health services in PNG. Associate Prof. Ruth Stewart – President of the Australian Rural and Remote Medicine will be our keynote speaker. Our very own outstanding Dr Joe Vilosi, Dr Valerie Archer, Dr Otto Numan and Dr David Mills will be guest speakers. We are also very fortunate to have Prof John Hall from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine as a guest speaker and he will be talking to us about the implications of Universal Health Coverage on rural health in PNG. These individuals collectively have so much experience and a profound understanding of rural health services both locally and internationally and I am sure we will all be able to learn from their experiences.

The scientific committee received a record number of abstracts, 118 in total. Nevertheless, the committee
wanted to focus on quality rather than quantity. Therefore, we had the most difficult task of selecting only 80
abstracts in order to give presenters more time (15 minutes rather than 10 minutes while keynote and guest
speakers were allocated 20-30 minute slots). By doing this, we hope our symposium will be more enjoyable
and not too overcrowded.

I wish to thank Prof Nakapi Tefuarani and the executives of the PNG Medical Society for their support. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors throughout PNG, the government of PNG, as well as the business community in Madang who supported our fundraising activities. Special thanks to Sir Peter Barter for his constant support as well as our Patron Hon. Peter Yama. My sincere gratitude goes to the symposium organising committee in Madang who put in all the hard yards in making this symposium a success. Individuals who formed the symposium organising committee came from all the major health institutions in Madang, particularly – Modilon General Hospital, Divine Word University, Madang Provincial Health Office and the PNG Institute of Medical Research. They have all contributed so much under the leadership of Deputy Chairman Dr Sammy Thomas, Executive Secretary Ms Jessica Popen, Treasurer Dr John Bolnga, Fundraising Chairman Dr Waikesa Kalala, Publisher Dr Harry Aigeeleng, Chairman Dr Vincent Atua and our exceptional former Secretary late Dr Billy Selve, whom we sadly lost earlier this year.

Thank you all and I hope you enjoy the 54th PNG Medical Symposium with us here in Madang.