Health in Commonwealth Pacific

  • The quality of healthcare systems in the Commonwealth Pacific varies between Australia and New Zealand and the more remote Pacific member states. Australia has the second highest number of doctors in the Commonwealth, with 299 doctors per 100,000 Australians, and 959 nurses and midwives (2009). New Zealand, too, is well-staffed with the highest number of nurses and midwives in the Commonwealth, 1,087 per 100,000 members of the population, and the fourth highest number of doctors at 238 (2007). Papua New Guinea has the least number of qualified health personnel in the Commonwealth Pacific, with only 5 doctors and 52 nurses per 100,000 members of the population (2008). Most of the smaller Pacific member states have fewer than 50 doctors and 200 nurses and midwives per 100,000 members of the population. With the exception of Papua New Guinea, most healthcare systems in the Commonwealth Pacific are well-funded. Kiribati and Tuvalu have the highest proportions of public expenditure on health in the Commonwealth, at 10% of their GDP in 2009. New Zealand, along with Botswana and the United Kingdom, has the second highest proportion with 8% of its GDP spent on health. Australia has the second highest spending on health per capita in the Commonwealth, $3,867 per person spent on healthcare (2009). Papua New Guinea has the second lowest proportion of public expenditure on health with only 2% of GDP spent on health, along with a number of Commonwealth Asian and African countries – this equates to only $37 per capita spent on health in 2009.
  • Obesity is a major health issue for the Pacific member states, with the highest rates of being overweight and obese in the Commonwealth. With 93% of the adult population classified as overweight, and 71% as obese, Nauru has the highest rates in the Commonwealth. Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati have the second, third and fourth highest rates, respectively, with more than 80% of the adult population classified as overweight and more than 45% as overweight (2008). Papua New Guinea has the lowest prevalence of being overweight and obese in the Pacific Commonwealth, with rates of 48.3% and 14.6%, respectively (2008).
  • Smoking is another significant health problem in the Commonwealth Pacific, accounting for the six highest rates in the Commonwealth. Kiribati has the highest prevalence with almost 68% of the adult population smoking on a daily basis. Only Australia, Vanuatu and Fiji have daily smoking rates below 20% (2008).
  • The prevalence of risk factors for non-communicable diseases, such as raised blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure, is relatively high in Pacific member states, compared to other Commonwealth continents. Of the 32 member states with available information on the prevalence of raised blood glucose, a key indicator in the presence of diabetes, Kiribati and Samoa have the highest rates in the Commonwealth, with 22.4% and 21% of the adult population having raised blood glucose, respectively (2008). Of the nine Pacific member states with available information, more than 30% of the adult population of all nine countries have raised cholesterol. New Zealand and Australia have the fourth and fifth highest rates of raised cholesterol in the Commonwealth, at 57% of the population (2008). However, Pacific member states do have a lower prevalence of raised blood pressure; Papua New Guinea has the lowest rate in the Commonwealth, only 27% of the adult population have raised blood pressure (2008).
  • Child mortality rates of all the Pacific member countries are low in comparison to Commonwealth Africa. Papua New Guinea has the highest infant mortality and under-five mortality rates in the Commonwealth Pacific, with 47 deaths and 61 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively (2010). Australia has the third lowest child mortality rates in the Commonwealth, with an infant mortality rate of 4 deaths and an under-five mortality rate of 5 deaths per 1,000 live births (2010).
  • Papua New Guinea, along with The Gambia, has the fifth highest reported maternal mortality rate in the Commonwealth, with 730 annual government-reported deaths of mothers per 100,000 live births (2006-10). In terms of adjusted maternal mortality rates, which takes into account government figures, as well as World Bank and UN estimates, Papua New Guinea’s maternal mortality rate falls to 230 deaths per 100,000 live births – the highest rate of the Pacific member states but far lower than most of Commonwealth Africa (2008). Australia has the lowest adjusted maternal mortality rate in the Commonwealth Pacific of 8 deaths per 100,000 live births (2008).
  • The Commonwealth Pacific has a low prevalence of HIV/AIDS among those aged 15-49, compared to African and American member states. All Pacific member states with available information have rates below 1% (2009).
  • Australia has the highest income per capita, and human development ranking in the Commonwealth, as well as the highest life expectancy at 82 years. With an average income of $43,770 per Australian, Australia ranks 2 on the UN’s 2011 Human Development Index, closely followed by New Zealand at 5, with an average income per capita of $29,695 (2010). The rest of the Pacific member states are classified as lower-middle-income economies by the World Bank, with the exception of Tuvalu which is an upper-middle-income economy with an average income of $4,760 per capita (2010). The lowest ranking Pacific member state on the Human Development Index is Papua New Guinea at 153 out of 187 countries. Papua New Guinea life expectancy of 62 years is the lowest in the Commonwealth Pacific (2010).