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A Burnet program in Papua New Guinea, which has educated more than 10,000 new parents, will this week be incorporated into the local government’s own health system.
Burnet sexual and reproductive health specialist Lisa Davidson said the Enhanced Antenatal Care component of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program used a tiny budget and existing health infrastructure to reach thousands of young families.
It was funded with Australian community donations matched by the Australian government’s NGO Cooperation Program.
The need for the program was identified in 2012 when research in the East New Britain (ENB) region found local pregnant women attended on average only three antenatal appointments, usually starting no earlier than the 26th week.
Patients could wait four-to-five hours for that appointment, which went for seven minutes on average, and included little time for education about childbirth and infant care.
“Pregnant women overwhelmingly felt under-prepared for childbirth. The traditional supports for women to learn about childbirth and infant care had gone, but not been replaced by anything,” Ms Davidson said.
Midwives did not want men involved in pregnancy and childcare, although research found both women and men wanted to learn more about family planning and birth spacing, nutrition, sex and illness in pregnancy, breast feeding, caring for a baby and immunisation.
Burnet put to use the long hours women spent waiting for antenatal clinics, running interactive education sessions in waiting areas. Soon they also reached out to the men waiting outside the clinics.
“We employed a local midwife, Juliana Bubur, to conduct sessions at three antenatal clinics,” Ms Davidson said.
In the first year, 1563 pregnant women and 192 men attended the sessions.
Midwives said that after attending sessions, women presented earlier in labour and were better prepared and more relaxed, with fewer vacuum extractions.
Midwives were still unsure about having men attend deliveries, but they reported an increased uptake in birth control post-delivery, and more testing for sexually transmitted infections by men and women.
Image: Burnet sexual and reproductive health specialist Lisa Davidson
“And the midwives wanted to know what were we doing that was making such a difference!”
Mothers better understood the process of foetal growth during pregnancy, and said partners did more household chores, drank less and allowed more money to attend appointments and buy healthy foods.
Men were more supportive with birth control and spacing.
“One father who came to the session said it was only after he saw his wife deliver a baby that he understood why she needed more than 12 months to recover between births,” Ms Davidson said.
Fathers said the education helped them to bond with their wife and babies, and they felt more protective and included.
“By the end of the first 12 months we had eight fathers who had actually attended the births of their babies, in spite of the misgivings of midwives.”
Soon the Provincial Health Office asked Burnet to take the sessions to all ENB clinics, instead of just three, and to train health care workers and midwives to deliver weekly sessions in every clinic.
“They really loved the tool kit that was developed. They loved that they had proper training materials they could base these sessions on,” Ms Davidson said.
Next week, Ms Davidson will return to ENB and hand ownership of the program to the Provincial Health Office, which will employ Ms Bubur for continuing oversight of the program’s expansion.
“Today, 64 antenatal staff are trained to conduct sessions,11,862 pregnant women and 529 male partners have attended sessions, and 63 men have been present at the birth of their babies, up from no men when we started,” Ms Davidson said.
“This project had a tiny budget - less than $90,000 AUD per year. But by using good development practice, working within the existing health structures and building capacity and demand, we’ve been able to create a sustainable project that’s making a really big difference.
“I think this project clearly demonstrates the unique strength that Burnet has, where we can link our medical research with innovative evidence-based practical action, that really has an impact on vulnerable communities.”
For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:
Deputy Program Director, Behaviours and Health Risks; Sexual and Reproductive Health Specialist