Ahead of Mother’s Day, Dr Elizabeth Peach reveals the many challenges facing mums and babies, and our Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies research team, in Kokopo, East New Britain.
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The difficulties faced by many families here (East New Britain) are really evident. Some families walk 2-3 hours across rugged terrain just to reach the nearest road. It’s not surprising then why so many mothers and babies don’t get the healthcare that they need during pregnancy, at delivery and after the birth of their baby. Many local families make less than 20 kina per year – the equivalent of about $10 Australian dollars. They can’t afford to send their children to school, buy nutritious food, safe water or pay for housing, let alone seek health care.
It is sometimes easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated by the difficulties of doing a job here. I’ve never yet had a day that ran smoothly to plan! But despite all of the challenges and frustrations there are enormous rewards to this work. One great privilege is seeing the immense strengths of this community and the wonderful qualities that so many people express.
Working amongst local people, importance placed on maintaining personal relationships, friends and family, more often than not trumps individualistic motives. The potential of the local staff is enormous. When I see them in action sometimes I see the future leaders of the province. They tell me that being involved in HMHB has created an opportunity to work towards something that they are passionate about and that will make a difference to their people and their country. HMHB has inspired them to dream of bigger things for their family and themselves. One research officer revealed she dreamed of being able to help write an academic journal article – working with HMHB researchers could make this dream a reality.
They are also actively changing norms. For example, our five research women, most of whom have husbands and children, and are juggling career and family life on a daily basis in a society where women’s ability to participate in outside employment is often very difficult.
HMHB is unique in that we have so much support, from the grassroots communities to the leaders of the provincial government. Healthcare facility staff openly express their support and take time out of their busy schedules to meet with us, give us inside local knowledge and advice. From leaders in the provincial government to the person you meet on the street, it is touching that we are so welcome here.
It is incredibly humbling that people I meet in the community are so grateful for the work we are doing, and so touched by the generosity of the Australian people who have made it possible for us to work here. Everyone has a family member who has been affected by a preventable health condition. It’s impossible to describe the grief of the families of the women and children who are left behind.
What would cause outrage in Australia happens here on a daily basis and it is difficult for everyone to see this happen. HMHB gives people hope for the future of East New Britain and PNG.
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