PAPUA New Guinean obstetrician Gunzee Gawin wants New Zealand to fund and train health workers to help PNG curb its staggering maternal death rate.
PNG has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world.
Dr Gawin is in Wellington for the open hearing on maternal health in the Pacific conducted yesterday by New Zealand’s parliamentary group on population and development (NZPPD).
The risk of a woman dying in childbirth in PNG was one in 20, compared with one in 10,000 in New Zealand, Dr Gawin said.
“I didn’t see any single maternal death during my three-year stint in Australia but in the two years since I have been back home, I’ve already seen 15,” Dr Gawin told the hearing.
He gave an example of one hospital with an average of 40 deliveries a day and a daily staff of two or three midwives.
The high maternal death rate was due to a high fertility rate, low access to contraception, a high rate of teenage pregnancy, limited access to healthcare and male dominance, he said.
“Teenage pregnancies are very high and a huge proportion of the maternal deaths are teenagers, between 10and 20 (years old), in trying to abort unwanted, unplanned pregnancies and (they) are dying,” Dr Gawin said.
Male dominance in making decisions was also a problem, he said.
“A lot of the times, the woman wants to go to the hospital and the man says no and they stay home and then complications arise and the wife dies and the husband lives, it’s quite unfair.”
The number of midwives and doctors trained to deal with childbirth in PNG was “very, very low”, Dr Gawin said.
“We have the facilities there but it’s not manned.”
Another problem is many people can not afford to travel to hospital, or do not know where to go, he said.
Dr Gawin said that he wanted New Zealand to help PNG train and retain midwives and doctors.
That could include a stint working or training in New Zealand and increased remuneration.
“We have this problem where we train people and they are so qualified to go and work in Australia or New Zealand that they leave, or some go to the private sector because it’s more lucrative,” he said.
Dr Gawin has had to buy some work equipment with his own money because the Government cannot.
NZPPD chairwoman and National MP, Jackie Blue, said that PNG had a “massive problem” with its maternal death rate and there was an “urgent need” for improved family planning and access to better healthcare. – New Zealand Press Association