Let me tell you a story about a young woman named Grace.
Grace lives in a small village outside of Ramu, in Papua New Guinea (PNG). During her pregnancy, Grace moved from her village in a remote mountainous area, to live with her mother in Ramu to be closer to medical assistance. Grace was lucky enough to be able to afford to go to antenatal classes with a trained midwife at the local health centre.
When Grace went into labour, however, she arrived to find the local medical centre closed, and in total darkness. Unable to pay their bills, the centre’s electricity had been cut off.
Two highly stressful and painful hours later, after a midwife had been summoned, and the centre opened, Grace’s healthy little baby girl was delivered. Her mother and sister took turns holding a torch for the midwife to work by.
Grace’s story of pregnancy and birth, while frightening to us, is not uncommon in PNG.
Grace’s story had a happy ending – she now has a beautiful little three-month-old baby girl. Unfortunately, many other women in PNG are not so lucky.
In Australia, access to safe and hygienic maternal health care services is an expectation rather than a privilege. However, currently in PNG only 36% of births are attended by a skilled health care worker and less than 30% of women have a supervised delivery in a health care facility – a situation that all too often leads to birthing complications and, sadly, death.
These statistics prompted a special group of volunteers from the women’s not-for-profit organisation Soroptimist International (SI) to launch Birthing in the Pacific, a special project targeted at reducing unnecessary maternal and infant mortality for our neighbours in Papua New Guinea.
Birthing in the Pacific takes international best practice and evidence and applies it to the local situation in PNG – increasing access to both skilled birth attendants and functioning health care services.
The main objectives of the project are to:
- Provide education programmes for birth attendants at four skill levels
- Ensure that birth attendants have resources to enable them to practice efficiently
- Audit facilities for emergency care and provide essential resources where possible
- Support the PNG Midwives’ Society to ensure that registered midwives have an avenue to be seen as a professional body of nurses
A major component of objective two is the provision of nursing pouches, called the ‘Karim Baby Bilum’ (pouch of clinical tools) to midwives in PNG. These pouches include essential tools required to carry out the business of daily clinical care that is taken for granted here in Australia.