On the afternoon of 20 July 2018, Aiva turned up at Waima Health Sub-Centre with birth pains. Later that night she delivered twin healthy baby boys.
This was Aiva’s fourth pregnancy and second delivery at a health centre with a trained health professional.
“Although I was surprised to have two babies, I’m glad it was here at the clinic and not at home as I know they will be ok,” Aiva said.
Aiva hails from Waima village in a remote part of Central Province in Papua New Guinea.
Women in her village often walk for hours to the nearest health facility to give birth and endure the 180km ride to Port Moresby if they have complications during childbirth.
Papua New Guinea has some of the world’s highest rate of deaths in childbirth. Many mothers have no choice but to give birth at home, with the help of untrained relatives or traditional birth attendants.
Women living in Aiva’s village, where ChildFund works, often have to walk several kilometres to the closest health clinic, which has two trained health workers and limited facilities.
If the clinic is closed, they must travel 24km to the closest district health centre. Women usually have to hire costly taxis, which are few and far between in remote communities, to make this journey. This can end in tragedy.
This year, thousands of generous Australians donated a combined almost $250,000 to ChildFund’s appeal to help mothers like Aiva and her babies in Papua New Guinea.
Australians also sent cards of support to women in PNG, a kind gesture that brought tears to the eyes of many expectant mothers in remote villages in PNG.
“Thank you to all our neighbours in Australia who are supporting us and have sent us these cards,” expectant mother Aiba said.
“It’s so nice to know that someone I’ve never meant is thinking of me and my baby. Thank you.”
This was my first trip to Timor-Leste and I didn’t know what to expect. Looking at the statistics during my desk review, basic health care is a massive challenge in this corner of the world.
This country has some of the highest rates of newborn deaths in Asia, and the remote villages like the ones I was about to visit in Liquicia where ChildFund works, are among the most dangerous places for babies.
As we made our four-hour journey through the mountains, I reflected on the root of the problem. As with other countries where conflict and occupation has spanned entire generations, Timor-Leste was crippled by deliberate famine, population displacement, destruction of its infrastructure (estimated at 80 percent destroyed), and had its social structure upended by the loss of a third of the population.
The country has had to rebuild from scratch, and to its credit, things have been moving in the right direction, albeit with a long way to go.
The villages were not much more than a cluster of barebone houses lining a dirt road. I was happy to see electricity had made it to these hillsides, but it was very dry, and I’d been told by our team that several healthcare centres in our project areas still struggled with accessing water needed for basic services.
Healthcare centres are rare. Facilities were targeted during the war, and many of the country’s doctors and medical professionals were forced to flee. Women in remote villages often walk several hours in search of help for their sick children.
When I arrived at the community gathering, I was struck by how young the majority of people in Timor-Leste were. The country lost so many people during Indonesia’s occupation. More than 60 percent of Timor-Leste’s population is under the age of 25. In neighbouring Australia, where I live, it is less than half that. The health repercussions of this are something I have to think about as ChildFund looks at future programing here – there is a new generation of young Timorese who need support as they start getting married and having children. Most have limited maternal, child or sexual reproductive health knowledge and services. How can we work together to turn that around?
The remote villages in Timor-Leste lack services and expertise, but the young people I met were eager to embrace anything that could help their communities prosper.