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.