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Catholic-run family planning in PNG: assistance or oppression?

Family planningCATHERINE GRAUE | Pacific Beat | Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Extract

You can read the full article here

SYDNEY - Pressure is mounting on Papua New Guinea's Government to reconsider its contracts with health clinics run by the Catholic Church, amid concerns some are deliberately failing to meet their obligations of providing a full family planning service.

While advocating natural methods of contraception, the Church insists it also provides counselling and a patient referral system, which is a requirement of its contract with the PNG Health Department.

But family planning advocates claim items being provided to Catholic clinics by the Government go unused and are being destroyed, while others report spot checks are being carried out by senior church officials.

The Catholic Church officially promotes the natural "ovulation method", but the outspoken views of people like Rolando Santos, the Bishop of Alotau, point to a much harder line which is causing considerable anger among health professionals.

"They should not use artificial means in order to prevent the natural process from taking place," he told the ABC's Pacific Beat program.

"They have to respect the plan of God, of nature."

Family planning advocate Wendy Stein, who set up the NGO Spacim Pikinini — which translates as "space your children" — to provide implants to women living in remote PNG, has raised her concerns about the Catholic Church.

"They're out of touch and I feel like they're oppressing the indigenous people in PNG," she said.

"We've had instances where the bishops send teams out to villages with propaganda and discourage people, whether they're Catholic or not, about the implant."

She has had her own run-ins with Father Santos, who questioned the work of her NGO.

"I've had conversations with the Bishop here, he called me probably 18 months ago to have a discussion about it and told me stop what I was doing, it was wrong and that I'd go to hell," she told Pacific Beat.

Father Santos said his big concern is that NGOs like Spacim Pikinni are providing implants to teenage girls.

"It's just not to mothers. It's not just to adults, even to young people they're giving the implants to them," he said.

"This can embolden a woman."

Family planning NGOs say they target young women because teenage pregnancy rates are defying global trends, and growing.

The UN's Population Fund estimates that one in six PNG females will have her first child before she turns 18.

Cathy Fokes, the former director of Port Moresby-based NGO Safe Motherhood Alliance, has also documented stories about Catholic Church-run health clinics.

"You have individual clinics that will deliver modern methods of contraception but it's uneven again," she said.

"I was told a story where some members of the Church would do spot checks, so the health providers needed to be careful.

"They didn't want to get caught, they could lose their jobs."

Dr Glen Mola, head of obstetrics at the Port Moresby General Hospital, believes these are isolated cases.

"I think this is a minority," he said.

"There are a couple of fundamentalist members of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church who have bees in their bonnets as it were."

But he said most "allow the health workers to get on with their job and don't interfere".


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I was talking about secular versus non-secular bias Arthur. To me all Christian faiths are the same.

While I can acknowledge that if you take the total land area of PNG and divide it by the population it appears to be sparsely populated - such are the anomalies of statistics. This doesn't mean that Simbu, or indeed Mosbi and Lae, are not overcrowded and that Western Province is thinly populated.

This also doesn't mitigate the problems that women have with too larger families and irresponsible and errant partners. For them birth control is imperative. A woman being forced to have sex with an overbearing or drunken partner is in no position to insist he use a condom. Her only respite is other sources of birth control. That is the only power she has. Taking that power away from her is an appalling idea. Unfortunately PNG has a lackadaisical government that thinks inferior drugs or dangerous drugs are fine as long as someone makes a profit out of them.

Arthur Williams

Eh what bias Phil? I was brought up Baptist to Methodist parents, was Catholic volunteer, married into Seventh Day Adventist family, and was a lay preacher for United Church.

The best way to avoid HIV-AIDS is, as one grass roots Lavongai said in a meeting in Taskul in 1996, "If you and your wife are faithful to one another there is very little chance of getting the sickness!"

As for overcrowding, did you choose to ignore the population density figures I posted? As someone said, "You are born with two hands to work and only one mouth to feed!"

I was reading only this morning how one of the boss of the building contractor Persimmon has been forced to take a £25 million cut in his earnings -great you may say but he still will get minimum of £74 million. Two of his top mates after 'cuts' get a miserly £54m & £40m.

They make their bucks building homes in house-starved UK.

And Oxfam reports, "The 85 richest people in the world own the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people. Across the world, the growing gap between the rich and the rest threatens our vision of a world free from poverty."

Does wealth inequality have nothing to do with poverty in PNG?

From yesterday's property adverts in Nation:

"IN PNG CBD these newly renovated 6 x 2 bedroom units are being sold individually on the market. The units offer a spacious open plan dining and living plan area with spacious kitchen, swimming pool and 24-hour security.

"The property is fully-tenanted and would ideally suit single professionals or companies needing accommodation for their newly-arriving staff. This is also an ideal opportunity for local investors wanting to invest on town apartments.

"Selling price: K1.6 million each."

Yokomo was seen in the queue this morning.

Michael Dom

The best way to avoid side effects in women during the use of family planning medicines and tools is to use a vasectomy on the culprits.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Thanks for the clarification Garry. For a second there I had some misgivings about where you were coming from - it must be part of my religious phobia.

You are right, of course, about that particular method of birth control. And PNG has a reputation for the use of shonky drugs and also as a dumping ground for dangerous ones (like tobacco).

I also agree that the good old condom is very effective. It's also cheap and freely available. Training men to use them is another matter of course.

Garry Roche

Phil, I have no quarrels with birth-control as such. But there are genuine concerns about the side-effects of some implants, and even the websites will admit as much.

One common implant is Nexplanon. For a list of possible side effects see the company's own website.

In addition to the possible side-effect of abnormal bleeding the web-site lists several other side-effects including: - mood swings, weight gain, headache, acne, depressed mood, headache, vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina),breast pain, viral infections such as sore throats or flu-like symptoms, stomach pain, painful periods, , nervousness, back pain, nausea, dizziness, pain at the site of insertion....

Implants have been reported to be found in a blood vessel, including a blood vessel in the lung. This is not a complete list of possible side effects.

According to the website additional risks are ectopic pregnancy, ovarian cysts, serious blood clots.

There is an additional aspect. The implants do not protect against HIV or other STDs. If, as may not be uncommon, the use of implants lead to an increase in sexual activity there is a greater danger of HIV/AIDS spreading even more.

HIV infections increased by 4% in PNG between 2014 and 2016. I seem to remember that AusAID recently withdrew a lot of its funding for the (AIDS) antiretroviral program.

At least with condoms, there is less danger of the woman contacting HIV from the man, and less threat to the woman’s own health.

It often takes years before long-term side-effects of drugs are discovered and admitted. Remember Thalidomide? Remember Depo Provera? Is Lariam still being offered as an anti-malarial?

Philip Fitzpatrick

Garry and Arthur, I think you should step back a bit from your ingrained religious bias against birth control and analyse the situation in PNG a bit closer.

There are, in fact, population pressures in several areas of PNG, notably the highlands, especially Simbu, places like East New Britain and very certainly in the squatter settlements of the large towns like Port Moresby and Lae.

You should also consider that large areas are being made uninhabitable through practises like uncontrolled logging.

This overpopulation in these areas is what is creating the poverty we read about in so many studies and reports. Seeing some of those street kids in Mosbi and Lae is heartbreaking.

You should also consider that the population in PNG is growing at an unsustainable rate. It may look okay at the moment but if you project the statistics forward you can see that future generations are going to have major problems with overcrowding.

The other issue is the plight of the mothers. Many of them are having too many children, which is adversely affecting their health and making it impossible to provide for their children. Also consider the men who breed indiscriminately, infect the women with disease and then leave to let the women cope as best they can.

I think these sorts of issues outweigh any religious imperatives.

Arthur Williams

I will never forget my now deceased wife suffering from the side effects of Depo-Provera in 1980s. The womens’ section of Port Moresby General Hospital was crowded with women all suffering from the effects of this injected contraceptive that unknown to us was banned in its homeland USA.

I still believe that PNG and possibly other third world nations were providing human guinea pigs to test this drug which was being pushed by western birth control fanatics.

One of side effects of the drug is it can cause heart problems – my wife would die in her mid 40s from a heart condition. I don’t know if Depo had exacerbated her problem.

PNG is 209th out of 246 nations in terms of population density. There is no overcrowding.

Of course the reason for the birth control project was that the greedy do not want to share the world’s wealth with anyone and so own many mansions in all the chic sites around the world: own a fleet of cars and yachts, perhaps a private jumbo-jet, never go to state hospitals and gorge themselves daily at the so called ‘top’ restaurants paying several thousand for a bottle wine.

All the while hiding their wealth in off shore tax havens and so avoid paying correct taxes to their nation to be used on providing services for the poor.

I wonder how many of our SABL elites and political ones too are are into taxes havens. That is apart from their mansions in Queensland etc.

If only the fat bellied political elites would ensure the nation’s tremendous resource wealth was used for all of its citizens there would be no need to worry about population.

The exploitation of PNG gold, copper, nickel, tuna, timber, LNGas should by now have provided doctors even a dentist and optician on my wife’s island of 20000.

There should be adequate roads there too better than the ‘jinker-road’ of the clear fellers. There was better German road in 1914 than has ever existed since. This scenario is repeated throughout the nation because of the greed of those that have run the nation for over 42 years.

The women’s empowerment lobby would prefer to concentrate on condoms usage rather than attack the system that sees rural and poor urban women die due lack of proper health facilities and the disgusting education facilities in which the nation’s children are expected to learn and provide intelligent citizens for the future. Then we may see improvements in infant and maternal mortality with increases in life expectancy.

I grimaced recently when I read Sir Puke Temu saying medical staff must now retire at 65 not 55.
The life expectancy for males in PNG is 61 sir!

“Bullshit baffles brains.”

Garry Roche

Glen Mola’s viewpoint is interesting. Another issue is side-effects.

Are Wendy Stein or Catherine Graue aware of the reported side-effects of the various implants being promoted by some health companies and outside agencies?

Sometimes it is years before the serious side-effects become apparent and health officials have told me that some of the implants referred to do have side-effects.

For an example of a recent related issue in the United Kingdom see:

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