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The young woman knew the baby was coming. She headed through the jungle growth behind the Papua New Guinean (PNG) village where she lived, to the dry creek bed.
She was in pain and she was terrified. In PNG, more than 1500 women die every year from childbirth-related causes, a rate 80 times higher than Australia’s.
There was no way she would get to the nearest health facility – it was a two day walk from the village. While the village did have one run down car, she knew precious petrol would not be expended on transporting a labouring woman.
Unusually for this woman, some NGO health workers were visiting her village, among them Burnet’s incoming Maternal and Child Health Co-Head, Distinguished Professor Caroline Homer AO. They heard the woman’s cries and followed the sound to the dry creek bed.
Image: With the nearest health facility two days walk away, a dry creek bed becomes the site for a birth.
They were able to find her and help her give birth to a healthy baby.
“Imagine if you were in labour and that was your best option,” Professor Homer said.
“You’re in a village, two days walk to the nearest health facility, no road, no vehicle – and even if you had a vehicle the petrol could not be spared for you.”
Image: Professor Caroline Homer AO
This Mother’s Day, spare a thought for women like this who will give birth to their babies far from help, some of whom will lose their own life or that of their precious newborn due to medical problems that have simple solutions in developed countries, or even in townships in their own countries.
Burnet board member Alison Larsson saw this first-hand recently, travelling to PNG to see the work of Burnet’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) team.
Ms Larsson visited Kerevat District Hospital, where many villagers were gathered to attend antenatal and postnatal appointments with the Burnet HMHB team.
“In the previous week two local mothers, unable to reach hospital to deliver, had died from postpartum haemorrhage, a tragedy rarely seen in Australia,” she said.
“A simple injection of the hormone oxytocin straight after childbirth may have prevented their deaths – this is available at the hospital, but not in remote communities and women in these distant areas are often unable to access health facilities.”
“This, more than anything I experienced on my visit, left me with enormous grief at the inequity of healthcare globally.”
Image: Burnet Board member Alison Larsson visited the Institute’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies project in PNG
According to Professor Homer, the sad reality was that most maternal deaths could be prevented.
“The World Health Organization last year recommended eight ante-natal visits, but in many countries getting to four is almost impossible. Many women will not see a health professional at all during their pregnancy.”