By JOSEPHINE YAGA
WHEN Julian Kivori held and looked at the first baby she delivered, she was overwhelmed with emotion.
She had just saved the life of a baby and a mother who was in intense labour for more than a day. This was the beginning of her new role as a traditional birth attendant. Twenty eight years on, 45 year old Kivori has delivered 100 babies in both Kivori Poe and Kivori Kui villages in Kairuku, Central.
“Most pregnant women give birth in the village, she said, the nearest health facility is in Waima which is a one hour walk from Kivori Poe and Kui. A mother in labour would take about two to three hours to reach the facility.”
More than 6,000 people live around Waima and Kivori, half of whom are female. Due to the deteriorating road conditions, vehicles rarely travel that way so people walk with the exception of two trucks or Public Motor vehicles (PMV) that use the road regularly. Locally –owned, they travel only to and from Port Moresby three times a week, one trip each way takes up to five hours.
With this scenario, most pregnant women prefer delivering babies at home where it is safer for them and they don’t have to fork out money for PMV fare and other extras. There is also the risk of travel and the long hours, and even chance of giving birth along the way. Bereina Health Centre is about an hour’s drive from Kivori. There’s an ambulance available but the means of communication are difficult.
Kivori, the birth attendant learnt the basic skills of baby-delivery while working at the Kivori Poe Health facility where she was initially engaged as a house-keeper. Soon, when nurses were not available, the Community Health Worker would ask her to assist him to prepare the delivery room and set up items for the delivery process. Even though she is illiterate, she quickly learnt the basic procedures through observant.
When the hospital closed in 2013, she returned to her village. While she is no longer on a paid job, she has continued in her role as a full time traditional birth attendant.
She has kept track of all the babies she delivered and out of the 100 babies she has helped deliver, only one died. Those babies are now aged between four months and 28 years old. Some of these ‘babies’ are now married and have children of their own which Kivori also helped deliver.
She, herself, has six children and she literally had a hand in the deliveries of her seven grandchildren.
In recognising her role in the community, ChildFund PNG, through its Integrated Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition Programme, asked Kivori to participate in a six-week training for Village Health Volunteers (VHV) in 2015. The training touched on five modules included;
- Being a better volunteer
- Learning about health
- Safe motherhood
- Healthy Children and
- Self –Help Health Care
Up until last year, ChildFund PNG has trained more than 80 village health volunteers in Rigo and Kairuku through its health intervention. A refresher on the same training was also conducted last year.
Kivori said, before the trainings, she used items such as 50kg coffee bags, old clothes, a sharp bamboo with a string from bags during births. The 50kg bags were laid out on the ground or floor, the old clothes were placed on the bags for the pregnant woman to sit on and using the sharp bamboo, and when the baby arrived she would cut the umbilical cord and tie it with the string. She used warm water to bath the baby.
For labour and births, a temporary hut is built, called Koroaonai in the local language, meaning, ‘place for birth. ‘There, the mother and the baby will be spend two months, separate from their family, during which time they undergo traditional cleansing rituals. The hut is usually covered with coconut leaves and is next to the woman’s family home. At the start of her labour pains the pregnant woman is encouraged to walk around until the intervals are short or constant and she then enters the hut. Inside, the birth attendant helps her into a squatting position and she firmly grabs onto a rope that hangs just above her head. Kivori sits facing her patient and checks to see if the baby is out. Sometimes, the long wait causes her knees, hands and back to ache but she concentrates until the baby arrives.
“On several instances, I walk long distances and at night, to reach these women,” Kivori explained.
“Even when it rains, I find my way to them. It is tiring but I love what I do. I believe God gave me a gift to save lives so I will continue to help women until the day when my legs can no longer carry me.”
She thanked ChildFund for including her in the training and added that the instructions were conducted in simple, easy to understand terms. She learnt many new things on maternal health and general health but more importantly the proper steps before, during and after delivery. She said the training also gave her the opportunity to meet other Village Health Volunteers and learn from them.
The Team Leader for ChildFund PNG’s Health Program Olive Oa said ChildFund PNG strongly encourages women to deliver at the nearest health facilities but due to inaccessibility and hardships to get to a health facility, women seek out volunteers like Kivori to help them out during this very important time in their lives.
“The challenges remain,” said Julian, “and I always hope that someday some good people could build huts in every isolated community where women can seek help from VHV’s on family planning, maternal and child health and also help deliver babies inside the huts when they are unable to travel to hospitals. I also appreciate the birthing kits provided by ChildFund. The kits are convenient, easy to use and they are clean.”
“I am happy ChildFund recognised this gap and provided training for the VHV’s. Together, we can continue to help our people.
- Josephine Yaga is Communications Officer at ChildFund PNG.