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Health challenges for women in Papua New Guinea were the focus of international development executive Stephanie Copus-Campbell’s moving keynote address at a special Burnet luncheon to mark 2017 International Women’s Day.
Ms Copus-Campbell, executive director of the Oil Search Foundation Board (OSF), which works to improve health, education and gender equity in PNG, said women in PNG experienced some of the world’s highest rates of poverty, violence and maternal mortality.
“There’s nothing worse than the cry of a woman who’s lost her child and in PNG you hear it far too often,” she said.
“So often, it could have been prevented.”
The OSF has partnered with Burnet via a Memorandum of Understanding to create collaboration in research, capacity building and policy advice in PNG, the country where Burnet’s flagship Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies program is based.
Ms Copus-Campbell, who has worked in the Pacific in a range of postings, said PNG’s largely remote population made it extremely difficult to achieve development outcomes, with many communities inaccessible by road or even air.
She said endemic violence against women in PNG was something she had seen evidence of amongst her mostly female staff.
“I learned that every time we had a round of promotions, I made women vulnerable. Brothers and husbands had expectations about where the extra money would go, and women would suffer.”
However she said Papua New Guineans were rising up against the culture of violence, with men starting to take a stand against it.
Image: Dr Elissa Kennedy, Stephanie Copus-Campbell, Associate Professor Heidi Drummer, Annamarie Laumaea, Burnet Board member, Associate Professor Helen Evans AO.
She spoke of individual women she had met during her career in international development, such as a woman in Malawi she found living in a one-room house weeping because she had broken her bucket.
“She was completely devastated because she didn’t have $5 to replace it, and this was enough to push her and her children into a situation of extreme poverty,” Ms Copus-Campbell said.
“I thought, that’s one cappuccino for me. Women like her sit on my shoulder, and they say: do what you can, you are very privileged.
“Being born in Australia, living in Australia, it’s like winning the life lottery, when you think of the billions of women living on one or two dollars a day. For me, that means we need to give back.”
Image: Dr Elissa Kennedy
There were also heartfelt presentations from Burnet staff about their work and personal experiences. Program Director of Maternal and Child Health, Dr Elissa Kennedy, who recently became a mother for the first time, spoke about the stark differences for women giving birth in Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Young HIV researcher, Annamarie Laumaea, who comes from the coastal region of western PNG, shared her amazing journey from the school room to undertaking a PhD in an Australian laboratory.
Burnet’s Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program supports many local staff in Kokopo, East New Britain, who play a key role in gathering data and maternal and child health samples for our research studies. Dr Liz Peach who manages the team, paid tribute to their outstanding commitment to improving the health of women and children in their country.
Image: Stephanie Copus-Campbell, Burnet Patron Lady Primrose Potter AC and Associate Professor Heidi Drummer.
International Women’s Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March 1911, and today is marked around the world on 8 March.
For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:
Program Director, Disease Elimination; Co-Head, Drummer/Poumbourios Laboratory; Chair, Burnet Gender Equity Committee