Low birth weight in PNG: Priscah and baby Keosu

Burnet Institute

15 November, 2019

Priscah Hezeri has been working as a Research Officer with the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) program in Papua New Guinea (PNG) since 2015, the first year of the project.

As a part of her job with HMHB, Priscah visited some of the 700 mums enrolled in the program, taking samples. Some of these mothers went on to have low birth weight babies.

In 2016, Priscah had her own baby daughter. The baby was born at seven months and three weeks and was small for her gestational age. She was only 1.7 kilograms.

One in seven babies in PNG is born with a low birth weight.

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Baby Keosu 1 month

Born weighing just 1.7kg, Keosu had to stay in a hospital nursery for her first month of life.

Babies born too small are often too weak to fight infection and as a result can die. Even if they survive, they can suffer with severe health problems throughout their life, and have a shorter life expectancy.

“When I held her,” Priscah remembers, “she just reached from my elbow to my hand – she was so very tiny. I named her Keosu after my mother. In my native language, Kamano Kafe, the name means ‘quiet person’.”

Keosu was kept in the hospital nursery. She would not be able to leave unless her weight reached 2kg.

“It took so long for her to grow,” Priscah remembers. “I compared her to the others that were admitted. They could go, but we were still there. It was very, very sad. But all this time, I had faith in my baby. I had faith that my baby won’t die, my baby will be living.”

Priscah doesn’t really know why Keosu was born early and so small.

“I had the best care during my pregnancy,” she said. “Working with the HMHB team, I knew what to do. I went to all the antenatal clinics. I was always given the best care and treatment. I just don’t know why it happened.”

To a degree, low birth weight is a mystery. There are things we do know about the causes of low birth weight in PNG, but there is much more that we don’t know.

After a month in the nursery, Priscah began to see an improvement, and soon Keosu’s weight had climbed enough for them to go home.

In the intervening three years, Keosu has grown steady and strong. She has not had any illnesses apart from the usual childhood ones. She is now a healthy, happy, cheeky little three year old.

Burnet is currently raising funds to support the HMHB study into low birth weight in PNG, which will begin immediately in 2020, with interventions proposed for 2021.

“To the donors who support Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, I want to say thank you,” Priscah said. “It would be so wonderful for myself and other mothers here to understand low birth weight more. To understand why it is happening and what we have to do to stop it.”

Your donation today will help solve the mystery of low birth weight in PNG.

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Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor James Beeson

MBBS, BMedSc, PhD, FAFPHM, FAAHMS | Deputy Director (People); Head of Malaria Immunity and Vaccines Laboratory; Adjunct Professor Monash University




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