Papua New Guinea

Medical Information
For Travelers

| General Information | Health Precautions | Disease Risk Summary |
Official Health Data | Current Health Concerns | USDOS Advisory |

General Information

Papua New Guinea lies in the southwest Pacific about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Australia. Along most of the coasts are lowlands and rolling foothills of varying widths. Swamps cover large areas of the country; on the southwest littoral the great delta plain of the Daru coast forms one of the world's most extensive swamps. Papua New Guinea lies wholly within the Tropics and its climate is monsoonal. The northwest monsoon season extends from December to March and the southeast monsoon from May to October. Average annual rainfall ranges from 80-100 inches (200-250 cm), although many areas receive more than 200 inches (500 cm). Port Moresby, however, gets only 40 inches (100 cm) or less of rain per year.

Temperatures are not extreme for a tropical climate, and most lowland, coastal and island areas have a daily mean temperature of 81°F (27°C). Seasonal variations are slight. In the highlands, temperatures vary with altitude. At 6,000 feet (1,830 meters), the mean temperature is 61°F (16°C) with daytime temperatures rising to 90°F (32°C) and night temperatures falling to 40-50°F (4-10°C). Lowland humidity is uniformly about 80% with very little seasonal variation.

Health Precautions

General Cautions

Recent medical and dental exams should ensure that the traveler is in good health. Carry appropriate health and accident insurance documents and copies of any important medical records. Bring an adequate supply of all prescription and other medications as well as any necessary personal hygiene items, including a spare pair of eyeglasses or contact lenses if necessary.

Drink only bottled beverages (including water) or beverages made with boiled water. Do not use ice cubes or eat raw seafood, rare meat or dairy products. Eat well-cooked foods while they are still hot and fruits that can be peeled without contamination. Avoid roadside stands and street vendors.

Swim only in well-maintained, chlorinated pools or ocean water known to be free from pollution. Wear clothing which reduces exposed skin and apply repellents containing DEET to remaining areas. Sleep in well-screened accommodations. Carry anti-diarrheal medication. Reduce problems related to sun exposure by using sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, sunscreen lotions and lip protection.

Specific Concerns


These recommendations are not absolute and should not be construed to apply to all travelers. A final decision regarding immunizations will be based on the traveler's medical history, proposed itinerary, duration of stay and purpose for traveling.

Hepatitis A: Consider active immunization with hepatitis A vaccine or passive immunization with immune globulin (IG) for all susceptible travelers. Especially consider choosing active immunization for persons planning to reside for a long period or for persons who take frequent short-term trips to risk areas. The importance of protection against hepatitis A increases as length of stay increases. It is particularly important for persons who will be living in or visiting rural areas, eating or drinking in settings of poor or uncertain sanitation, or who will have close contact with local persons (especially young children) in settings with poor sanitary conditions.

Hepatitis B: Vaccination is advised for health care workers, persons anticipating direct contact with blood from or sexual contact with inhabitants, and persons planning extended stays of 6 months or greater (especially those who anticipate using local health care facilities, staying in rural areas, or having intimate contact with the local population).

Polio: A one-time booster dose is recommended for travelers who have previously completed a standard course of polio immunization. Refer to CDC guidelines for vaccinating unimmunized or incompletely immunized persons. Pregnancy is a relative contraindication to vaccination; however, if protection is needed, either IPV or OPV may be used, depending on preference and time available.

Typhoid: Vaccination should be considered for persons staying longer than 3 weeks, adventurous eaters, and those who will venture off the usual tourist routes into small cities, villages and rural areas. Importance of vaccination increases as access to reasonable medical care becomes limited. Contraindications depend on vaccine type.

Note: All routine vaccines (such as DTP or Td, Hib, MMR, polio, varicella, influenza and pneumococcal) should be kept up-to-date as a matter of good health practice unrelated to travel.

Disease Risk Summary

Insect-borne illness:

Food-borne and water-borne illness: diseases such as the diarrheal diseases, the typhoid fevers and helminthic infections are common. Hepatitis occurs. Biointoxication may occur from raw or cooked fish and shellfish.

Other hazards:

Official Health Data

AIDS: According to the Department of State, testing is required for persons other than diplomats and Agency for International Development workers planning to work or seeking residency. Contact Papua New Guinea's embassy for details.

Yellow fever: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over 1 year of age coming from infected areas.

Risk areas: Risk exists throughout the year in the whole country. Chloroquine-resistant P. falciparum and P. vivax are confirmed, and Fansidar resistance is reported. WHO reports the rate of transmission is 23 cases per 1,000 inhabitants, with 76% attributed to P. falciparum.

Protective measures: CDC recommends that travelers visiting risk areas undertake chemoprophylaxis with mefloquine in addition to personal protective measures. Persons with epilepsy, psychiatric disorders or known hypersensitivity to mefloquine should not use this drug and should consider alternate means of protection. Consult your physician regarding additional precautions and potential side effects.

Current Health Concerns

According to postings on ProMED, health officials recently announced that 16 people were infected with Japanese encephalitis in December 1997 on Normanby Island, located off the southeastern tip of the mainland. The disease occurred in a limited section of the Esa'ala district in the province of Milne Bay; however, health officials have been urged to investigate the situation further. The employment of a mosquito control program is likely.

Posted 14 April 1998.

According to a posting on ProMED, an influenza-like illness is said to be responsible for more than 110 deaths in the district of Jimi in Western Highlands Province. Reports indicate that the fatality rate may be higher than reported as health facilities in the district have been closed and some areas are not accessible by road or air. A medical team has been dispatched to the region to assess the situation and distribute medicine.

Posted 13 February 1998.

USDOS Advisory

The material below is reprinted verbatim from the U.S. Department of State (USDOS). Recommendations regarding preventive health measures (including immunizations), if given here, may differ from those of the CDC/ACIP presented elsewhere in this report. Health-related entry requirements, if included here, may not agree with the official version of requirements reported by WHO and presented in the Official Health Data section of this report.

Consular Information Sheet - September 5, 1996

Country Description: Papua New Guinea is a parliamentary democracy and a member of the British Commonwealth. The country consists of the eastern half of New Guinea Island, the Bismarck Archipelago, the D'Entrecasteaux Islands, the Louisiade Archipelago and the islands of Buka and Bougainville. Tourist facilities exist in the capital of Port Moresby and in major towns such as Lae and Madang. The standards of the facilities vary and may be below U.S. standards, particularly in remote areas.

Entry Requirements: For information about entry requirements, travelers may contact the Embassy of Papua New Guinea, 1615 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009, telephone (202)745-3680. Travelers may also wish to obtain a visa for Australia before traveling to Papua New Guinea for transit and other purposes (see section on medical facilities). For further information about Australian visas, contact the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC at telephone (800) 242-2878.

Medical Facilities: Medical facilities in Papua New Guinea range from hospitals in Port Moresby and the larger towns to health centers and aid posts in remote areas. Missionary stations may also provide health-care facilities. The medical facilities vary in quality, but those in the larger towns are adequate for routine problems and some emergencies. Equipment failures, sudden shortages of common medications, and reductions in services due to lack of government funding can mean, however, that even routine treatments and procedures (such as x-rays) may become unavailable. More sophisticated medical facilities are located in the Australian town of Cairns, in Queensland. Travelers who anticipate the need for on-going medical treatment may consider obtaining visas for Australia before leaving the United States. Australian visas are issued in Port Moresby, but in a case involving medical treatment, the Australian visa authorities will require a referral from a local doctor, proof of acceptance by an Australian doctor, and proof of the patient's ability to pay for treatment. Pharmacies in Papua New Guinea are small and found only in urban centers and in missions.

Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for medical services. The Medicare/Medicaid program does not provide payment for medical services outside of the United States. U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance which specifically covers treatment in Papua New Guinea and Australia and includes a provision for medical evacuation may prove useful. Medical conditions arising as a result of diving accidents will almost always require medical evacuation to Australia. Information on health matters may also be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through its International Travelers' Hotline at (404) 332-4559, Internet:

Information on Crime: Crime and personal security are serious concerns in Papua New Guinea. Most travelers to Papua New Guinea are either tourists traveling as part of tour groups or are residents under the auspices of missionary, business, governmental or quasi-governmental groups, and do not experience problems as a result of carefully following the advice of their tour groups or sponsoring organizations. Armed robberies and carjackings are a major problem throughout the country. Criminals occasionally victimize and rob people in large crowds, such as those at sporting events, concerts or political rallies. Hiking in rural areas and visiting isolated public areas such as parks, golf courses, beaches or cemeteries can be dangerous. Persons traveling alone are at greater risk for robbery or rape than those who are part of an organized tour or under escort. Most visitors to Papua New Guinea avoid using taxis or buses known as public motor vehicles, and rely instead on their sponsor or a rented car for transportation. Travel outside of Port Moresby and other major towns by car at night can be hazardous as criminals set up roadblocks. Visitors may wish to consult with the U.S. Embassy or with local law enforcement officials concerning security conditions before driving between towns. Travel to isolated places in Papua New Guinea is possible by general aviation aircraft; there are many small airstrips throughout the country. Security measures, if any, at these airports are rare.

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and to the U.S. Embassy. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad. It is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.

Areas of Instability: The government of Papua New Guinea does not allow travel to Bougainville, the largest island in the North Solomons province, because of an active armed insurgency. An Indonesian secessionist group remains active along the largely inaccessible Papua New Guinea/Indonesia border. The town of Rabaul is located near two active volcanoes which buried half of the town during eruptions in September 1994. Volcanic activity has occurred on a periodic basis since that event and travelers should be aware of the potential for further eruptions. Rabaul has not recovered completely from the 1994 eruptions, and travelers may wish to verify that their hotels provide full amenities. Persons with respiratory problems may find that airborne ash exacerbates their conditions.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

Road Safety: Traffic in Papua New Guinea moves on the left as in Great Britain. There is no country-wide road network and roads are generally in poor repair with flat tires a routine result of debris on the roadways. Landslides can be a problem on the Highlands highway during the rainy season. Travel on highways outside of major towns can be hazardous due to roadblocks set up by criminals at night. Criminal roadblocks have occurred during the day time on the Highlands highway. Travelers may wish to consult with local authorities or the U.S. Embassy before traveling on the Highlands highway. Reactions by crowds after road accidents in Papua New Guinea can be emotional and violent. Crowds form quickly after an accident and may attack those that they hold responsible or burn their vehicles. Friends and relatives of an injured party may demand immediate compensation from the party which they hold responsible for injuries, regardless of the legal responsibility. Persons involved in accidents usually find it prudent to proceed directly to the nearest provincial police headquarters rather than stopping at the scene of an accident.

Embassy Location and Registration: U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, where they can obtain updated information on travel and security. The U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby is located on Douglas Street, adjacent to the Bank of Papua New Guinea. This address should be used for courier service deliveries. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1492, Port Moresby, N.C.D. 121, Papua New Guinea; telephone (675) 321-1445, fax (675) 321-1593.

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