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No woman should die giving life

It is deeply unjust that in a country just 160 kilometres off Australia’s coastline, women and their babies lose their lives during childbirth, in terrible conditions and from causes that are completely preventable.

Yet this is the daily reality in Papua New Guinea (PNG), particularly for the 85 per cent of the population that live in rural and remote areas.

No woman should die giving life. Nor should any woman see the child she has carried for nine months pass away because she could not get the help she needed while giving birth.

The conditions in which women in PNG give birth would shock many Australians. Rural health clinics, where they exist, are rudimentary and lack even the most basic equipment.

Staff are often under-trained, and few in number – unable to cope with the vast health needs of impoverished communities. Doctors are in scarce supply. For many women in Central Province, where ChildFund works, the closest doctor is a four-hour drive away.

Due to this dire lack in health infrastructure, most women have no choice but to give birth at home, and rely on traditional birth attendants to assist them.

The latter are without resources, and use whatever tools they have available. These may include sharpened bamboo to cut the umbilical cord, a used produce sack for the mother to lie on, and plastic bags instead of gloves.

In Papua New Guinea, 85 per cent of the population lives in remote, rural areas, which means the majority of women have no choice but to give birth at home.

In these conditions, it is little wonder that PNG has some of the region’s highest rates of maternal and newborn deaths. It is estimated that one in 120 women will lose their life due to a maternal cause, compared to Australia’s one in every 8,700.

And unlike many other developing countries in the region where signs of progress in maternal and child health are evident, these rates are not improving.

Many factors have contributed to this continuing problem, most notably PNG’s extreme shortage of doctors, nurses and midwives as well as the facilities, medicine and equipment that would prevent many of these tragedies.

However, there are also many people on the frontline who, every day, are committed to making sure childbirth is the safe, joyous event it should be.

Commitments by the PNG Government, the National Health Plan and support from international aid donors are essential but clearly not enough, as the current statistics show. Much greater investment and sustained implementation are imperative.

There are few more pressing challenges than preventing the health crisis that is unfolding on our doorstep. ChildFund will continue to work with leaders, healthcare professionals and local communities to develop long-term improvements.

In the short-term we are equipping communities and frontline workers with the essentials they need to save the lives of mothers and their newborns in PNG.

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