Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 September 2009
Are the health patterns of Papua New Guinea (PNG) changing? If so, in what ways are they doing so? Specifically, are they changing in line with theoretical models which invoke modernization, development and globalization to account for the decline of infections and the rise of lifestyle- and ageing-related health problems? Or does communicable disease – persistent, recrudescent or emergent – still predominate? In this review, I aim to discuss selected evidence on the health of Papua New Guineans, with a particular focus on examining past trends and on considering, so far as possible, future prospects – whether by projection from the past or on some other rationale. In the process, I shall consider the adequacy of conventional health modernization models to describe PNG's present situation.
To be modern is to have characteristics typical of recent times and the present day, by contrast with the more distant past. This sounds open-ended; but, in the health sciences as in the arts and social sciences, modernity is (explicitly or implicitly) expected to bring changes of a specific character. This follows usually from the concept that socioeconomic modernization, discussed by Ulijaszek (1995), is accompanied, anywhere in the world and whenever it may take place, by a demographic, health or epidemiological transition (Caldwell et al. 1990; Riley 2001). In such transitions, not only are death rates alleviated and life expectancies increased, but also one set of causes of ill-health (life-threatening and otherwise) declines in importance, to be replaced by a different set.