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Australian students build neonatal centre in Suanum, East Sepik

By Sasha Pei-Silovo – EM TV Online


The lives of Papua New Guinean mothers and newborn babies are continuously put at risk with the appalling state of healthcare services that are either non-existent in most areas throughout the country; or that are in need of upgrade, medical workers, facilities and medicine.

The lack of proper, clean and safe neonatal centres, especially in rural areas, is one of the biggest contributing factors to Papua New Guinea having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; with prenatal complications being a leading cause of ‘one out of every ten deaths’. More so, infant mortality rates stand at 47 deaths per 1000 ‘live’ births.

But thanks to the aid and expertise of Australian architecture students from the University of Melbourne, the people of the remote, coastal community of Suanum, located in Turubu East Coast of the Wewak District of East Sepik Province, now have a neonatal centre and innovative composting toilet system.

The $60, 000 project, jointly funded through the Direct Aid Program of the Australian High Commission Papua New Guinea and the University of Melbourne’s Bower Studio led by Dr David O’Brien from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, focuses on the significance of “sanitation in reducing mortality rates”.

The Bower Studio project team joined forces with the Suanum villagers to design and build the facilities that now provide the people of Suanum with a sanitary neonatal centre that sleeps up to four women, a composting toilet system and clean, running water.

“We have tested our composting toilets near PNG’s second largest city, Lae, and they have proven a vital sanitary facility for the community,” said Dr. O’Brien.

The facilities were established to address the “unique challenges” faced by the rural village with a populace of almost a hundred people who have had no access to health services within a three-hour radius of their community.

“This was a unique opportunity for the Master of Architecture students to enhance their design and community consultation skills. Our team has developed robust and culturally appropriate facilities in Suanum.

“Safe and clean facilities reduce the physical and mental risks for the mother and child in the first month after birth. These facilities will improve health outcomes, while also respecting the community’s strong cultural traditions,” said Dr O’Brien.

Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Deborah Stokes, while congratulating the students on the project’s successsaid that the project supported Australia’s broader commitment to providing increased midwifery education and facilities in PNG.

She said that facilities such as the Suanum neonatal centre are vital in saving the lives of mothers and their children during childbirth.

The Bower Studio project team, since 2008, have worked alongside various partner communities in Australia and internationally, to assist in the designing and constructing of community centres, houses, community bathing centres, computer labs and an early childhood learning centre.

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