Make it happen for rural mums

Editorial

THE Government’s plan to make it compulsory for women to call into established health facilities during pregnancy and child birth is welcome although not entirely new.
If unlike the Government’s current free primary health care policy, the plan is successfully implement and backed with necessary funding and other resources, there is a real chance of reducing the country’s dismal maternal and child health indicators.
Over the years, health service providers including a number of non-governmental organisations have tried to encourage women to always seek proper medical care during pregnancy and childbirth.
But despite the best of intentions, there have always been a number of constraints which have prevented women to seek such help.
Each year, more and more women and their infants die of childbirth complications. These deaths can be avoided.
The most obvious contributing factors to this tragedy are the lack of trained medical workers, drugs and long for most rural areas, difficulties in travelling to medical centres to seek timely help.
For rural women especially, getting into the nearest health centre or provincial hospital would mean travelling some distance by road, water or air and this is sadly a difficulty faced by many families around the country.
The Government’s plan as announced by the Prime Minister, will include assistance in transporting and expectant mothers to health facilities. This will indeed be a huge relief to families.
All over the country, women and children die due to the unavailability of medical services and
PNG’s infant and maternal mortality rate is as high as it is shameful. This is of concern not only to PNG but the global community as well.
But there is positive news as the Government and its development partners, being fully aware of the generally poor health indicators of the population, are planning to correct some of those concerns.
And for the Government, a concerted effort in reducing infant and maternal mortality should be a good place to start to improve the health indicators.
Upon his return from the Apec Leaders Meeting in Lima, Peru and a state visit to Cuba, the Prime Minister announced his government’s plan to make child birth a lot safer for Papua New Guinean women than it has been for decades.
According to United Nation’s statistics alluded to recently, PNG second only to Afghanistan in the Asia-Pacific region in infant and maternal mortality rates.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country mostly of highland desert like conditions and predominantly Muslim. And in much of the Muslim world women and girls’ education and general advancement, sadly, does not rank high up there in the national psyche.
Combine that with the harsh geographical conditions, a volatile political environment and scars of conflict dotting the landscape and you have one of the riskiest places on earth to fall pregnant in.
That is probably where an African proverb holds true: To fall pregnant is to have one leg in the grave.
In comparison to Afghanistan, PNG has far better economic and social conditions. It can easily provide far better health care for its women but years of neglect and inadequate resource allocation have continued to see a decline in health service delivery, and the high maternal and infant mortality rate.
The public will naturally welcome Government’s proposed move to help reduce maternal and infant mortality, however there maybe some doubt and questions especially to do with its ability to adequately finance such a plan. Without such financial commitment it may turn out to be like the current free primary health care policy which looks good on paper but is not really benefiting the public because funding for basic drugs and equipment is not available and some facilities are forced to charge fees from patients still.
Another critical issue is the inadequate number of health professionals to make the Government’s plan work. We refer specifically to midwives.
According to the PNG Midwifery Association, the country needs at least 100 trained midwifes to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goal of reducing maternal and infant mortality.
The existing nursing schools and the medical school of the University of PNG need funding to upgrade their facilities and increase student intakes.
O’Neill’s plan is perhaps the best chance yet to reduce the number of maternal and infant deaths annually. He must make it happen, especially for our rural women.

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