By Annette Kora – EMTV News, Port Moresby
Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of maternal and newborn mortality in World Health Organizations records for the Western Pacific Region. That is; for every 1000 births in PNG, nine mothers and 24 babies die, making this a national emergency.
In December 2018, a ministerial-level Maternal and Newborn Health Taskforce was established to advise the government on the best way to address high rates of maternal and newborn deaths.
The task forces’ analysis of the situation was released last week, 28th February 2019. The findings of the situational analysis highlighted that these deaths are largely the result of preventable or treatable conditions, such as haemorrhages, infections, and pre-eclampsia – a condition characterized by convulsions caused by high blood pressure in pregnant women.
Likewise, the deaths of newborn infants are often due to a lack of quality care around delivery, leading to infection and asphyxia. Findings also highlighted that most women avoided facilities and that concerns about the quality of care are a major reason why pregnant women avoid health facilities and instead, opt for the risk of an unattended birth at home.
Other findings include fear, shame, violence, and dis-empowerment which discourage women from seeking care. Many women who participated in the survey said they were reluctant to seek care because of fear, shame, and risk of violence. Underlying these problems is a lack of timely and reliable routine health data.
The task force found that less than 40% of maternal deaths in the facilities were reported. This is excluding the deaths at home that hardly get recorded. Without data, planning and monitoring progress on child and maternal health is difficult.
While the overall findings of the task force are a cause of deep concern, Minister for Health, Dr. Puka Temu pledged to use the task force findings to develop a medium and long term action plan for improving maternal and newborn health that is simple, specific and actionable.
Echoing similar concerns, World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr. Takeshi Kasai said protecting and promoting the health and rights of women is a responsibility and a priority.
He reinforced WHO’s commitment to the welfare of women and children in the country and strong support to address this crisis. Meanwhile, the final report containing recommendations will be released in March to be presented to the National Department of Health.