Huge mining and gas projects not helping PNG women

PNG child mortality on rise

Ewa Kretowicz | Canberra Times

Mother-of-six, Wendy Daniell, with her one-year-old son, pictured next to the log she used to prop her legs up while giving birth in Papua New Guinea. Photo: Canberra Times

Mother-of-six Wendy Daniell is typical of women in remote areas of Papua New Guinea – she gave birth to her children without help.

Her most recent labour caught her by surprise so she propped her legs up on a log and gave birth in a garden.

But the most extraordinary thing is that she lived to tell her story.

”I gave birth to my youngest baby here, in this coffee garden right near this log. I haven’t ever had help to have my babies,” Mrs Daniell said.

In the island nation more than five women die every day during childbirth. By 1982, according to Charles Darwin University, most villages were within a two-hour walk of health care so the child mortality rate dropped from 20 per cent in 1960 to 11 per cent. But in the last 30 years this rate has started to climb again.

Aid organisation CARE Australia is hoping to raise $200,000 in the next month to help reverse that trend.

Chief executive officer of CARE Australia Julia Newton-Howes said the organisation needed to start educating men and empowering women to make their own choices for real change to occur.

”Women I have spoken to have talked about their desire to have fewer children and there is contraception available in the clinics but their husbands want to continue to have children so we are working on addressing gender norms and equality so that women can more readily access contraception,” Dr Newton-Howes said.

Officially the average woman in Papua New Guinea will have 4.6 children. But Dr Newton-Howes said women living in remote areas such as Goroka, where data collection is poor, have more.

In Papua New Guinea, 58 out of every 1000 children will die before reaching school age, compared with five in Australia. The children die from preventable illness such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia. They also die of measles – when a $1 vaccine could have protected them.

In remote areas income often comes from growing coffee beans, but women have no say on how it is spent.

”Coffee money is seen as men’s money and one of our long-term objectives is working with men and women to address some of the entrenched gender discrimination. When women have more say in how income is spent they prioritise feeding and children far more than men,” Dr Newton-Howes said.

She said women often had to make choices between getting help for a sick child or providing food for other children.

”If your child gets sick sometimes they are choosing between growing food and staying with your child,” she said.

The women who make the one- or two-hour trip to a clinic don’t always get the help they need.

Dr Newton-Howes said nearly all deaths of children under five in PNG could be prevented.

A $50 donation will pay for a safe baby delivery kit while $186 will train three female community health volunteers.


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Filed under Financial returns, Human rights, Papua New Guinea

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