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The mystery of low birth weight

Even if small babies survive, they can suffer severe health problems throughout life and have a shorter life expectancy

| Burnet Institute

MELBOURNE - Shockingly, one in seven babies in Papua New Guinea is born with a low birth weight.

Babies born too small are often too weak to fight infection and as a result are very likely to die.

Even if they survive, they can suffer severe health problems throughout their life, and have a shorter life expectancy.

Professor James Beeson, a principal investigator with the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies project, is a part of the team leading a major study into the issue of low birth weight in PNG.

“Low birth weight is a very complex medical issue,” Professor Beeson said.

“While there are some things we do know about the causes of low birth weight, the precise combination of factors in PNG is not fully known.

“Plus, there may always be new factors we simply haven’t come across before.

“We know that poor nutrition in mothers can be a key factor leading to low birth weight in babies.

“Infection during pregnancy can be a factor. I have also seen first-hand that mothers in PNG are suffering from high rates of anaemia which may be linked to low birth weight,” he said.

“It’s critical that we fully understand the causes of low birth weight specific to PNG in order for us to have any impact on this deadly problem.”


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Garry Roche

Lucille Piper's comment is very interesting, and perhaps shows the benefit of having grass-roots experience.

I wonder if this custom of expectant mothers eating less exists in other provinces or mainly in Milne Bay?

I recall a report from Hagen Hospital listing the reasons for admittance to the hospital, and the main reason was listed as NVD.

In my ignorance it was explained to me that NVD was the abbreviation for 'Normal Vaginal Delivery', in other words, childbirth.

I was not aware of low birth weight being a problem there, but it may have been. Perhaps further study is necessary.

Lucille (Lu) Piper

I worked in PNG for 20 years over a 50 year period, mainly in the Milne Bay Province.

Pregnant mothers (even those who were nurses) would deliberately eat less so they would have small babies to make the birth easier.

They were particularly fearful of needing a Caesarian operation because of the difficulty of getting to a hospital with a doctor in time (Alotau or Misima).

It is a marine province and seas can be very rough - in any case, how long can a mother, who is in labour, wait for a dinghy or a boat, let alone endure a trip that can take anything up to 10 hours or more?

In 2016 the province had a helicopter on standby for health emergencies (hopefully still has) but giving birth is still very risky in those remote villages.

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