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'Unrecognised crisis': right next door, women in serious danger

New bornMATT WADE | Fairfax Media

SYDNEY - Australia’s near-neighbour Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a mother and there are signs the country’s health crisis is getting worse, a report has found.

Women in PNG are 35 times more likely to die during pregnancy than women in Australia, according to an evaluation of maternal health by the aid agency ChildFund Australia.

Despite laws and programs to encourage supervised births, only 40% of women in PNG gave birth at a health facility with a specialised birth attendant in 2016 down from 44% in 2012. In some regions the share was just 21%.

And when women do manage to reach a rural clinic for the birth of a child they often find these facilities unstaffed or without electricity, running water, or essential medication and equipment.

The report also draws attention to the threat of gender-based violence in PNG - surveys have shown a high proportion of women there have been beaten during pregnancy.

“PNG is a dangerous place for pregnant women and their newborns, not only because of widespread poverty but because of the extremely high incidence of domestic violence,” it said.

A separate government review of PNG’s national health plan published last year found the health sector had an “overall decline in performance over the last five years”.

Nigel Spence, the chief executive of ChildFund Australia, said it is disturbing that some indicators suggest the health challenges facing women in PNG are getting worse.

"It remains an unrecognised crisis that maternal health in PNG is at such a low point," he said.

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

Mr Spence said greater support needs to reach the local and village level, where most women in PNG give birth.

"The loss of life is at an appalling level," he said.

ChildFund's report, called ‘National Health Crisis: Maternal Deaths in Papua New Guinea’, says the lifetime risk of dying during childbirth is 1 in 120 in PNG compared to 1 in 8,700 in Australia. Also, a newborn in PNG is 10 times more likely to die in the first month of life than an Australian newborn.

PNG is the largest recipient of Australian overseas aid and improving the health system has been a key aim of that support.

Even though this month’s federal budget revealed a $141 million cut to the overseas aid budget over the next four years, Australia’s contribution to PNG will increase from $541 million this financial year to $572 million in 2018-19.

Mr Spence said past aid spending by both governments and non-government organisations in PNG had "not always had the achieved the desired results".

But he said Australia has the means and the technology to do much more.

"This is our nearest neighbour and by any measure it’s an injustice that women not far from our shores are experiencing such risk when they are giving birth."


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Robert Wilson

These statistics are alarming in itself, however, the apparent total lack of interest from anyone outside the country is even more disheartening.

I still have a wife (PNG) after 42 years because we were at the time(1978) able to access a health system that was geared up to both treat locally and also transfer to Australia for more complex treatment. Something I doubt is now readily available to most PNG woman! If they don't have money or the political connections then they die!

I wish the very vocal and active women's groups throughout the world would take up their cudgels on behalf of their sisters. Perhaps it is easier to vent their fury against easier targets via the social forums and sympathetic media on issues that whilst are hurtful and upsetting to many, cannot compare to the life and death struggle faced by all neglected and persecuted women. Seems to me that women in 3rd world countries are the forgotten victims and history will condemn us for our failure to help them.

Is this message getting out to WHO? if not why not? How can PNG push this disaster onto the world stage so that the PNG politicians are forced to do something about it.

As the years roll on, public services such as health, education previously readily available to all and sundry have now shrunk to the level as reported by Matt Wade and continuing to slide whereas, I recently read about a multi millionaire PNG politician currently in a legal stoush over a luxury property development in Qld. To me this says it all!

How many millionaire PNG politicians has the political system produced since independence?

Arthur Williams

Must be careful what you post people ‘They’ are after Facebook so PNG Attitude may be next to be considered for being closed down.

After all none of the 10,000 delegates attending APEC meetings this year would know anything about real life problems in PNG. Doubt if they even have access to the I-Net back in the USA or Japan Malaysia etc . Such a pity otherwise people there could surf the net and read real life stories about PNG.

Guess none of them ever reads any of posts from remote unloved parts of PNG by Australian Doctors International,
Medicins Sans Frontieres, Youth With A Mission ships
or Chinese surgeons helping in the fight against malaria.

PNG life expectancy at birth of 65 places the nation near bottom of the WHO table at 150 of 183 nations.

Perhaps the PM and his ex-spurt advisers don’t know that the Post Courier and National newspapers have online versions where anyone in the world can read of the real living standards of the vast number of PNG citizens facing the shocking infant mortality and near-natal deaths of mothers.

After all this year’s APEC tokfest is only costing K300 million this year but don’t forget the previous years’ expenditure allegedly over K100 million. In accordance with customary funding there will be problems or scams that are bound to cause overruns in the current budgeted figures.

Surely nobody in his right mind could find any health or education project in PNG more worthy of that K400+ million expenditure. I mean it’s only two years since the cancer centre at Angau Memorial Hospital has been without the services of a radiation oncologist.

I think the APEC cultists are best summed up by last Friday’s Post Courier editorial: ‘…. the attack on the doctor last weekend has sent the wrong signals internationally of the host country for APEC 2018 and many of the damages done cannot be undone’!

They failed to express any sympathy for the ear, nose and throat registrar of Port Moresby General Hospital, Dr Dean Wahembari, who may lose sight in one of his eyes.

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