Recent reports have shown that Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one of the most dangerous countries for mothers and pregnant women. According to the aid agency ChildFund Australia, women in PNG are 35 times more likely to die during pregnancy than women in Australia.
One of the biggest issues that leads to death or severe complications for both the mother and child is a lack of supervised births at adequate birthing facilities. In 2016, only 40 percent of women in PNG gave birth at a health facility with a specialized birth attendant.
“No woman should die giving birth. Yet in a country just 160 kilometers north of Australia, women are losing their lives every day during childbirth due to unsafe conditions and causes that are completely preventable,” ChildFund CEO Nigel Spence said.
Unfortunately, it does not look like the number of cases is decreasing. PNG also has high rates of domestic and gender-based violence. Surveys show that there are a high number of women who have reported being beaten while pregnant.
Due to the fact that 85 percent of the population of PNG lives in rural areas, it’s geographically difficult for pregnant women to access proper facilities and assistance. The clinics that are reachable are typically under-supplied and under-staffed and must function without the most basic of medicines and equipment.
If there are complications during pregnancy and a woman cannot get to a hospital, both her life and the baby’s life are put at risk. Stella, a woman living in PNG has had seven children, four of which have died young. Late in her most recent pregnancy, she could tell something was wrong and asked her husband to take her to the hospital. Because of the distance and lack of adequate transportation, it took hours to get Stella to a hospital and, tragically, the child did not survive.
“I don’t want other women to suffer what I have suffered,” Stella said.
Stories like this are all too common in PNG, where a newborn is 10 times more likely to die in the first month of life than an Australian newborn. Following a civil war in the North Solomons Province of PNG, women in the Bougainville report being forced to deliver their babies in the jungle during the war. Francisca, a Bougainville resident, remembers how the older women acted as midwives.
“Time after time, women had difficult childbirth experiences in the jungle. Many times the mother or child died during childbirth,” says Francisca.
In 2012, Francisca formed the Koro Women’s Group to improve the lives of women in her community. They dug their heels in and pushed for a new health facility post so pregnant woman could have safe births and assistance should any issues arise. The post was built and has made vast improvements to the health of those in the area.
“Now we have our own health post, pregnant women have their check-ups and they have safer births,” said Francisca.
For PNG, maybe the best way to curb the growth of pregnancy and birth-related deaths is to work with individual communities rather than attempting to change laws that are rarely enforced. Groups like Koro are vital to securing the health and safety for pregnant women and their children.
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