Symposium focus on women

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday September 3rd, 2015

 WOMEN’s health has featured prominently at the 51st annual medical symposium in Port Moresby.

Discussions have attracted more than 800 local and international professionals who presented issues and identified smart ways and ideas to tackle them. 

Maternal mortality during child birth, which is often times preventable, remains a huge public health concern.  That is made worse by the fact that women’s cancers have now become common killers. 

The discourses and some very insightful and revealing presentations by the experts on the subject of women’s health only confirm the country’s poor standing in the world.

The Health Department’s technical adviser on women’s health Dr Lahui Geita has called for an increase in the number of skilled birth attendants or midwives as a means to reducing the country’s high maternal death rate.

He cited a lack of proper labour wards, delivery beds and lighting in some facilities but that would hold for most of the country’s rural aid posts and health centres. 

Reports of health workers delivering babies with the aid of torches and even mobile phones have been published in the local media in recent years. 

Last year, during the launch of a midwifery training centre at the University of Goroka, vice chancellor Dr Gairo Onagi highlighted the stark reality of an unnecessarily large number of mothers and children dying during child-birth. 

The mortality rate is as high as it is shameful.  

United Nation’s statistics placed 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’ educaton in general does not rank high up there in the national psyche.

That is probably where an African proverb could ring true: To fall pregnant is to have one leg in the grave.

In many respects PNG’s natural endowments, economic conditions and political climate contrast sharply with those of Afghanistan’s yet our women face almost the same risks at pregnancy and childbirth as Afghan women. 

Why? As stated again this week, more skilled and properly trained birth attendants or midwives would greatly improve the chances of women surviving child birth complications.

The University of Goroka and the Australian government must be commended for the establishment of the new building for midwifery training and staff quarters.

University of Goroka introduced its Bachelor of Midwifery course in 2010 to help reduce maternal mortality deaths.

The training of more midwives one sure way of saving mothers dying unnecessarily from child birth complications.

A number of midwives have graduated from the university adding to others already in the public health sector and recent graduates from pre-existing training institutions. This is a major step of the way to PNG reducing the high maternal mortality rate.

Midwifery services are critically needed not only in all rural health posts but also at the major provincial hospitals including Port Moresby General Hospital.

Midwives trained should be encouraged and driven by a desire to make a difference and go into rural settings where access to services might not be as good as in urban centres.  

They must be committed to seeing a marked reduction in the number of infant and maternal deaths.  

This week the experts have spoken at the annual medical symposium. They have proposed ways to reduce maternal mortality and preventing cancers killing women. 

However, without any real commitment by government and its agencies, we cannot advance any of the great ideas proposed at the medical symposium.

It would be refreshing to hear of action taken to improve the health of women at the 52nd medical symposium when our health experts next meet.

There is a danger though that information gathered during expert discussions could be brushed aside.

Worse, it can be taken as a fact of life while government agencies and those in authority would remain in a trance of complacency. 

The symposium should not be seen as only a gathering of professionals engaging in exclusive technical and academic dialogue.  

The important annual event discusses real life health concerns that threaten the social and economic livelihood of the nation.