Report shows Australia’s closest neighbor – PNG – one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a mother

A report launched by ChildFund Australia today uncovers the tragically high rates of maternal mortality in Papua New Guinea, Australia’s closest neighbour.

The report A National Health Crisis: Maternal Deaths in Papua New Guinea reveals that PNG is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a mother, where 1 in 120 women are losing their lives during pregnancy in PNG, compared to 1 in 9,000 in Australia.

The report states that the risk of maternal death is 35 times greater in Papua New Guinea than in Australia, and more than half of women in PNG have no choice but to give birth at home, due to the extreme shortage of hospitals, clinics and healthcare workers. In rural areas, rates are even higher.

Nigel Spence, CEO of ChildFund Australia, said: “The contrast between Australia’s maternal health standards and that of our closest neighbour is stark but can be addressed.

“No woman should die giving birth. Yet in a country just 160km north of Australia, women are losing their lives every day during childbirth due to unsafe conditions and causes that are completely preventable.

“A particular concern is that, unlike other developing countries in the region, maternal mortality rates in Papua New Guinea appear to be deteriorating, not improving.

“Australia has the ability to help our neighbour in preventing these needless deaths through simple interventions like improving basic healthcare at the village level.” Mr Spence said.

“Currently rural health clinics, where they exist, are rudimentary, lack basic equipment and medicines, and are unable to service the vast health needs of impoverished communities.”

ChildFund Australia currently provides on the ground assistance for women and newborns in PNG in an effort to make childbirth safer for remote, rural communities.

“Our focus is on equipping frontline workers with the skills and resources they need to ensure more women and their newborns survive childbirth. We strongly encourage women to deliver at the nearest health facility where possible. But sadly, this is not feasible for most women in PNG.” Mr Spence said.

ChildFund Australia equips and trains dedicated volunteers at a village level to provide essential, basic health support to pregnant women in their community. This program aims to bridge the gap between remote villages and health clinics in major centres.

Volunteers receive training in how to assist birth delivery, health monitoring, advising pregnant mothers, and family planning. They are also trained in how to recognise the danger signs in pregnancy and childbirth, and when to refer their patients for specialist care.

ChildFund also provides volunteers and healthcare workers with birthing kits containing essential items that reduce the risks of infection.

A National Health Crisis: Maternal Deaths in Papua New Guinea Key Findings:

  • The risk of maternal death is 35 times greater in Papua New Guinea than in Australia.
  • As many as 80% of women in Central Province, where ChildFund works, have no choice but to give birth at home, increasing the risks to both mother and child.
  • Nationally, around half of all women will give birth without any form of skilled assistance, with this figure much higher in rural areas. In comparison, fewer than 1% of women in Australia are without proper care and support.
  • In PNG, there is an extreme shortage of hospitals, clinics and healthcare workers. Currently, there is one doctor for 18,000 people, compared to 1 for 300 in Australia. For every nurse in Papua New Guinea, there are 65 nurses in Australia.
  • Official data on maternal mortality in PNG is unreliable, as so many deaths in rural PNG are unaccounted for, however the available data suggests the situation is worsening.

Download the full report.


AUGUST 2017: Papua New Guinea’s first free telephone counselling service – 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain – has received more than 5,000 calls in its second year of operation, a twofold increase from its first year.

Launched by ChildFund Papua New Guinea in 2015, in partnership with CIMC (FSVAC) and FHI 360, analysis of call data for the last 12 months found that the top three issues for callers were:

  • relationship advice;
  • physical and sexual violence (mostly perpetrated by an intimate partner); and
  • child welfare concerns.

Of those calling about issues involving violence, just over one-third of callers identified themselves as survivors, 20% as witnesses and 2% as perpetrators (a large proportion chose not to disclose their status). Half of all callers to the hotline were male.

ChildFund Papua New Guinea Country Director Manish Joshi said: “In a country where rates of family and sexual violence are at endemic levels, the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is not only providing a vital and much-needed service, but potentially has saved lives.

“Our objective in launching the hotline was to reduce the levels of violence in families and communities, which we know not only has a devastating impact on women and children but also on the growth of the nation. Our counselling staff provide important guidance and referrals to those personally impacted by violence, but also have the skills to counsel perpetrators, which is an important method of instigating longer-term behaviour change.”

To date, the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain has provided crisis counselling to over 1,400 clients, safety planning to over 600 clients, suicide intervention to 25 clients and information to over 4,000 callers. Counsellors have made over 3,000 referrals to other services, with main referral organisations being police, face-to-face counselling providers, legal advice and Family Support Centres, across the 22 provinces.

Grace, (not her real name) a counsellor at the 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain, says each day presents its own challenges and satisfactions. She said: “Challenges are inevitable, but each day I return to do it all over again because I know what a difference I am making to the lives of those who seek the counselling and support we provide.”

The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain is a partnership between ChildFund Papua New Guinea, CIMC (FSVAC) and FHI 360, supported by the New Zealand Aid Programme, USAID, ChildFund New Zealand and ChildFund Australia.


The 1-Tok Kaunselin Helpim Lain (715-08000) is a free, confidential phone counselling service providing information and support for anyone in Papua New Guinea experiencing family violence or sexual violence issues. The service is housed in Port Moresby but is available as a free call nationwide. Callers will be assisted by trained phone counsellors who can provide immediate crisis counselling at the time of the call, as well as information and referrals to other support services. The operating hours are between 7am and 7pm, seven days a week. Call 715-08000 to access the service.

About ChildFund Australia

ChildFund Australia is an independent and non-religious international development organisation that works to reduce poverty for children in the developing world. ChildFund Australia is a member of the ChildFund Alliance – a global network of 11 organisations which assists more than 14 million children and families in 63 countries. ChildFund Australia is a registered charity and is fully accredited by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which manages the Australian Government’s overseas aid program. ChildFund began work in Papua New Guinea in 1994, and undertakes child-focused community development programs in the Central Province and National Capital District. ChildFund PNG is the representative office of ChildFund Australia.

Media enquiries: Please contact Larissa Tuohy on 0437 337 118