PNG mothers have nothing to celebrate

Today is International Women's Day, but, as Jo Chandler writes for The Age, mothers in Papua New Guinea have nothing to celebrate

I met Dr Mola, Head of Obstetrics at Port Moresby General Hospital when I was researching stories in PNG in 2009. New figures had exposed a crisis on Australia's doorstep - the maternal death rate in PNG having doubled in a decade, rising to 733 per 100,000 live births. The equivalent figure in Australia is about eight, unless you are indigenous - then it is 21.5.

Why were so many women dying? Because of the lack of midwives and doctors, Mola told me. A breakdown in the tertiary sector meant not a single locally trained midwife had gained registration in almost a decade. Meanwhile, the population was skyrocketing. Of PNG's 200,000 births a year, some 120,000 were unsupervised.

Those women deliver ''in a dirty house, on a dirt floor, with no skilled attendants, no equipment, no capacity to get somewhere if something bad happens. And they die,'' Mola bluntly explained as he took me on a tour of the crowded women's wing of his hospital, carefully stepping around little piles of newborns scattered, with their mothers, over the floor.

On the eve of International Women's Day, I find Mola is in Melbourne. Has anything improved in PNG? Not much. AusAID is trying to recruit eight midwifery specialists to work in PNG as trainers, plus two obstetricians.

The problem is clearly identified, there is money to address it, but the best efforts are stymied by blockages and inertia in the fragmenting PNG bureaucracy. Someone neglected to pay the contractor who was supposed to be fixing up the hospital, so a whole ward remains shut. The labour ward floors are more crowded by women and babies than ever, Mola says.


This is no surprise and endemic of the eroded public service machinery that we now have in PNG. The once "best systems" in the Pacific have corroded especially over the last 20 years whilst the politicians pretend everything is fine and that it only needs a bit of love and tender care.

The Health Minister travels the world attending forum after forum and conference after conference extolling to the world the richness our country has in resources and then returns to burn warehouses full of medicines that have not been distributed because of a lack of the appropriate controls. He spends an exorbitant amount on traveling overseas but will not step out of his office to attend a urban clinic which has a chronic short of medicines (still sitting on warehouse shelves) and the cycle goes on.

Today is International Women's Day and though the mothers and women of PNG find it hard to celebrate their current plight, they should know that a new wave of hopefully more in tune leaders of tomorrow are listening to the cries of the people and that we ask them to celebrate the simple hope that we wish them goodness and a better way of life.

More power to you Simon Anakapu.

The Health Ministry is a really sick patient. But I wonder which 'doctor' is gonna pull the plug on this one.

Our Prime Minister obviously does not care.

This situation speaks one thing loud and clear.... PNG needs more female Poiticians!

I still disagree with headlines like this one... No matter how bad journalists say we are, as a nation, and a people, we as Papua New Guineans will always have reason to celebrate and be grateful. I say rebuke victimisation, and colonialism in all its forms. If we build positivity and pride, we can bring change ourselves and not remain in a dependency situation on foreign aid. The outcomes of foreign aid will always leave us wanting.

We need to invest our own resouces in educating, developing and nurturing the most talented and pationate meris in PNG. Only then will we see real long lasting change.
More power to the mamas!