Our people deserve better

Editorial, Normal

WE feel for Nancy Koreim of Josephstaal in the Middle Ramu of Madang province.
Her experience on New Year’s Eve reveals the sad truth of the plight of the majority of Papua New Guineans in rural communities right around this nation.
Ms Koreim, for those who might not have read The National’s page one story yesterday, was medevaced to Madang town on New Year’s Eve following complications.
She gave premature birth to twin boys, three months ahead of time, and lost them both.
She had no blankets or nappies for them and when the twins died, she had to ask for money to buy a shopping bag to take her babies home to a settlement outside town where her brother lives to bury them.
The nurses at Modilon hospital put the cause of her complications down to lack of antenatal care for mothers at Josephstaal.
We are reminded of another heart rending story from the Middle Ramu where a young 14-year-old mother struggling to reach the Aiom district headquarters for possible evacuation, gave birth by the side of the river in an abandoned sea container.
The baby had presented a limb and the fight was on to save baby or both with the inevitable truth looming ever larger with each passing moment that both might be lost.
Towards morning, the baby was delivered.
The mother lived but she lost the baby.
The aid post orderly accompanying the mother said: “They couldn’t send the chopper down to Chungribu (where the girl came from). They said it was too expensive and there was no money.”
“They” was the administration in Madang town that managed emergency evacuations.
And so the aid post orderly and his young charge came to the river and there, by the bank of the river, two hours short of the Aiome station, the girl gave birth. There was no ambulance, no medicine, no shelter even.
It is an experience that was spared Ms Koreim but we can confidently vouch that so many more of the mothers in this place as well as other remote districts of PNG endure the agony of the girl by the banks of the Ramu.
This is the ultimate cruelty – where lives are worth much less than the cost of a helicopter charter.
The people of Middle Ramu suffer from the heat, from the ravages of malaria all year round, from malnutrition, and the women, from chronic anemia.
Anemia or, a low red blood count, in women is persistent in these parts because women are engaged is far too much hard labour and get too little balanced diet in addition to the normal loss of blood through menstrual flow.
The Ramu River itself regulates the people’s lives – blessing them with a means of relatively cheap transportation, with an abundance of fertile land and with river fish and shrimps but also punishes during periods of high floods when the river roams as it pleases through homes and gardens.
People live on a steady diet of sago, yam, sweet potato, supplemented by fish, fowls and wild pigs.
This is the home of two-term Member and Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister Ben Semri.
Mr Semri was a health extension officer before he entered politics, so he would know exactly the health profile of his people.
If there is no antenatal clinic at Josephstaal as the nurses at Modilon hospital suggest, then perhaps the minister would need to give an explanation why.
Before Independence, there used to be normal antenatal clinics for pregnant mothers and regular patrols by health officers from Bogia and Madang for polio and other immunisation shots as well as for basic health care and hygiene talks. This invaluable service is now absent.
Churches provide the only health and education services all the way up and down the Ramu and then their limited services are always stretched to the limit.
Josephstaal is inland from the Ramu River where regular motorised canoes ferry cargo and people down to Base Camp and from there to Bogia or Madang.
A road from Bogia has long fallen into disuse and we would venture a guess that it is now closed.
This is the biggest tragedy that this country faces – that in a country blessed with so much our people continue to suffer this kind of inexcusable hardships, loss and death.
Nothing – not mines, not gas projects, not millions of kina – can be more important than lifting our people from the pit of this utterly preventable misery.