Government policy is to distribute health services widely and to provide comprehensive medical care, both preventive and curative. In the years 1985–1995, 96% of the population had access to health care services. Medical personnel in 1990 included 301 doctors and 2,447 nurses. As of 1999, there were an estimated 0.1 physicians and 4 hospital beds per 1,000 people. In 2000, 42% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 82% had adequate sanitation. As of 1999, total health care expenditure was estimated at 3.2% of GDP.
The main health problems are malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, and venereal disease. Significant malnutrition occurs in some areas and pneumonia and related respiratory infections are major risks. In 1999, there were about 250 reported cases of tuberculosis per 100,000 inhabitants. There were 797 malaria, 5,335 tuberculosis, and 6,821 measles cases in 1994. The increased incidence of malaria has been linked to importation from neighboring islands. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were fairly high in 1994: tuberculosis, 91%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 66%; polio, 66%; and measles, 39%. In 1999, the rates for DPT and measles were, respectively, 56% and 58%. While malnutrition remains a major problem, dramatic changes have occurred in some groups with exposure to more Westernized diets. Diabetes in the highland populations is low but has been documented to be as high as 16% in major cities of Papua New Guinea.
As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 31.6 and 7.8 per 1,000 people. As of 2000, 26% of married women (ages 15 to 49) were using contraception. The infant mortality rate decreased from 110 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1974 to 56 in 2000. In 1999, 16% of all births were low birth weight babies. The maternal mortality rate was 370 per 100,000 live births in 1998. Life expectancy was still only 59 years in 2000.
In 1996, Papua New Guinea had the highest per capita HIV prevalence in the North and South Pacific regions. As of 1999, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS was estimated at 5,400 and deaths from AIDS that year were estimated at 450. HIV prevalence was 0.2 per 100 adults.
Coronary heart disease, previously rare or nonexistent, has become more prevalent in past years. Total cholesterol values are higher in urban coastal and periurban subjects than in rural locations.