Global health efforts extend to Papua New Guinea

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital have embarked on a program to extend their world class medical care and public health expertise into Papua New Guinea. This program, aimed at improving maternal and child health outcomes, is possible due to a new partnership with the ExxonMobil-operated PNG LNG Project, Papua New Guinea’s National Department of Health and the University of Papua New Guinea School of Medicine and Health Sciences (UPNG).

Dr. Henry Welch with Michael Malabag, Papua New Guinea minister of health

Dr. Henry Welch with Michael Malabag, Papua New Guinea minister of health

The partnership is being supported by a $3.1 million, two-year grant from ExxonMobil and the other co-venturers of the PNG LNG Project to Texas Children’s Hospital for expansion of the Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric AIDS Initiative.

BIPAI is a pioneering program engaged in the fight to improve global health.

The expansion of the program signifies the first time that a United States academic healthcare system has sent pediatric and public health faculty to UPNG.

The grant will enable the deployment of BIPAI’s pediatricians and public health experts in partnership with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine, to expand on pediatric, maternal and public health education, training, mentoring, capacity building and research in Papua New Guinea.

New partnership

“The main goals of this new partnership are to build local capacity for healthcare and ultimately improve health outcomes in Papua New Guinea,” said Michael Mizwa, chief operating officer of BIPAI. “Working in collaboration with UPNG faculty, our team will help teach, train and improve clinical, public health and research programs.”

Though they have decreased in recent years, child and infant mortality rates in Papua New Guinea still remain high, with most deaths attributed to preventable and treatable diseases including pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition, HIV and tuberculosis. (In 2010, the infant mortality rate – the number of infants dying before reaching the age of 1, per 1,000 live births each year – was 69, and the under 5 mortality rate was 37.)

Maternal mortality rates also remain high, with most deaths attributed to preventable complications, mostly obstetric hemorrhage. (The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Papua New Guinea was 250.)

Rural health services

There is a great need to focus on improving, supervising and supporting rural health services, particularly primary health facilities and district and provincial hospitals, Mizwa said (Port Moresby General Hospital is the primary teaching hospital for the medical school located in the capital city). “Poor social and urban situations for children, difficult geographical access and low levels of financial support for local health systems remain a challenge for the area,” he said.

The BIPAI physicians arrived in Papua New Guinea the week of Nov. 4 to begin work. The physicians will live and work in Port Moresby.

The grant also provides funding for the UPNG School of Medicine to hire an obstetrician-gynecologist from the neighboring country of Australia to help with the initiative.

Papua New Guinea natural evolution

BIPAI operates a network of state-of-the-art clinical centers across southern and East Africa — with more than 175,000 HIV-infected children and their family members receiving life-saving treatment – while also providing high-quality healthcare training and clinical research. It was founded by Dr. Mark Kline in 1996. Kline is now physician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and chair of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

“This new program in Papua New Guinea is a natural evolution of the programs we have developed in other international settings over the past 17 years.  We believe that we can use much of what we have learned in Romania and Africa in improving the health of children and families in this new setting,” Kline said.

Fellowship program

In addition to providing additional healthcare resources and personnel on the ground in Papua New Guinea, the new program also will establish a Texas Children’s fellowship program that will enable a Papua New Guinea public health fellow to pursue training and an advanced degree at Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas School of Public Health. Participating fellows will return to Papua New Guinea to help establish public health training programs there.

Leaders from BCM, Papua New Guinea and ExxonMobil

Leaders from BCM, Papua New Guinea and ExxonMobil

The co-venturers in the PNG LNG Project include Esso Highlands Limited (an affiliate of Exxon Mobil Corporation), Oil Search Limited, National Petroleum Company Papua New Guinea, Santos Limited, JX Nippon Oil and Gas Exploration, Mineral Resources Development Company and Petromin PNG Holdings Limited.

The project is an integrated development that includes natural gas production and processing facilities in the Hela, Southern Highlands and Western Provinces of Papua New Guinea, and liquefaction and storage facilities with capacity of 6.9 million tons per year at a site adjacent to the capital city of Port Moresby.

“This new program really reflects the strength of Texas Children’s Hospital’s and Baylor College of Medicine’s shared commitment to global health and the continuous extension of our reach,” said Kline.

The partnership was officially announced in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea with a special dedication ceremony.

Attendees of the ceremony included representatives of the Government of PNG, Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor, ExxonMobil and the local medical institutions.