Delivering in PNG

Newsletter No 18

Delivering a baby in PNG can be extremely risky. However in Australia, the chances of dying from giving birth are few and far between.

The World Health Organisation records the maternal mortality rate (MMR) as the annual number of mothers who die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth. It is measured as per 100 000 births. In Australia, the statistic for 2015 lies at 6 while PNG recorded 215 for every 100 000 births.

According to the WHO, the neonatal mortality rate (per 1000 live births) for Australia is 2.2 while PNG recorded 24.5 in 2015. It is measured as the number of deaths during the first 28 days of life in any given year.

But why is this so? What are the differences?

In Australia, a mother receives constant attention throughout her pregnancy. She is monitored by a world-class health system where a midwife or doctor can always be found. When she comes to deliver, if she requires an ambulance, one can be called. The hospital she stays in is clean, well stocked and full of highly educated medical professionals. A paediatrician cares for the baby once it enters the world and mother and baby are monitored to ensure they are happy and healthy. Any problem is addressed immediately.

In PNG, a mother may not receive any medical attention before she gives birth. This may be due to the fact that she lives in a remote area or that she cannot afford the bus ride to where the medical attention exists. When she comes to deliver, she may do so in the village. Her mother or women from the village might assist. A skilled birth attendant could be present or perhaps she has been able to reach a health facility. Mother and baby may be healthy and remain so.

However, the chances of something going amiss are all too likely. A mother may go into labour and experience complications. If no one has a car, she could be forced to walk to the nearest road in hope that someone will stop. If it is daylight, she could catch a bus but she requires money to do so.

If she does reach a health facility, she may be so sick that she requires transportation to a hospital. The hospital might not have all of the equipment that is needed. All of this takes time and time can sometimes run out. An obstetrician or paediatrician may not even work in the province.

Despite only being a number of hours away, the experiences in the two health care systems are worlds apart.


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