Papua New Guinea: Centering the “People’s Economy” in COVID-19 Recovery

03.24.2021 | Articles | Michelle Nayahamui Rooney


Papua New Guinea (PNG), the largest country in the Pacific region, is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse countries on Earth. It has an estimated population of around 8.9 million people, of whom around 35% are between 0 and 14 years old, and around 65% are below the age of 24.[1] PNG’s 2019 human development index is 0.543, ranking it at 155 out of 189 countries. Life expectancy at birth is 64.3 years and the average years of school is 4.6 years. PNG’s per capita income of US$3,686 is unequally distributed with the poorest 40% of the population holding 15.1% of the country’s income while the richest 10% hold 31% of the nation’s income. There are 0.5 physicians per 10,000 people.[2] Much of the stock of service facilities such as education, health, and roads are in disrepair and chronically under resourced.

PNG was relatively insulated from the global pandemic in 2020 due to a raft of government measures. However, there are signs of a surge in the pandemic and as of March 2, 2021, there are 1365 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 14 deaths.[3] When COVID-19 first arrived in PNG, the Government of PNG (GoPNG) responded immediately, which helped to contain the coronavirus while generating public and parliamentary debate about how to balance public health measures against the social economic impact of lockdowns on women and other marginal populations across the country, including their freedom to earn a living.

[1] “World Population Dashboard: Papua New Guinea,” United Nations Population accessed December 10, 2020.

[2] “Human Development Report 2019,” United Nations Development Programme, accessed December 10, 2020,

[3] “PNG Records 14th Covid-19 Death,” Papua New Guinea Post Courier, March 2, 2021, accessed March 2, 2021