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More than 1500 women die every year In Papua New Guinea (PNG) from childbirth-related causes, a rate 80 times higher than Australia’s. Most of these deaths are from preventable causes.
Baby Tessie was born a couple of months ago in a village two hours from the nearest health centre in PNG’s East New Britain Province. It was a troubled delivery in the middle of the night.
In a country with some of the highest maternal and child death rates, Tessie was one of the lucky ones. Her mum Rose* was not so lucky.
Rose had a torn placenta and was bleeding continuously. There was no midwife or health worker present. Even if the family could get Rose to the local main road and flag down transport, it was at least two hours to the nearest health clinic. But they could not move her. The bleeding would not stop. She had postpartum haemorrhage, one of the most common causes of maternal death in PNG and globally.
Soon after Tessie was born, Rose went into shock and died. Baby Tessie became one of the 1500 newborns in PNG who begin life without their mother.
Many women in PNG still give birth at home in villages that are isolated and often a long way from clinics. They do this without the support of a midwife or health worker, and without ready access to a blood bank for blood transfusion. Just as Rose did. Postpartum haemorrhage is only one of the health issues facing new mothers in PNG. Poor nutrition, malaria, genital reproductive tract infections, and other sexually transmitted infections are also common.
However, evidence-based research that is underway through Burnet’s Healthy Mother’s, Healthy Babies (HMHB) program in East New Britain is aimed at informing new practices and interventions, and improving knowledge to help prevent needless maternal and newborn deaths.
A Principal Investigator with HMHB, Dr Michelle Scoullar said gathering evidence and knowledge is the crucial first step.
“Without the right knowledge, it’s easy to make the wrong decisions or invest resources in the wrong areas,” Dr Scoullar said.
“There are things we know work to save lives, but we don’t fully understand the problem. We don’t know where we should prioritise our attention to save the most lives and give babies the best start to life.
“With the right knowledge we can understand what the problems are, what the needs in the community are. From that we can develop a really strong action plan. It’s like having a road map. Without it, you’re lost. But with it, we can really make sure we know the way to make the biggest difference.”
Read more about our innovative research project Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, which is tackling high maternal and baby mortality rates in PNG.
Baby Tessie is a survivor. She was treated with sepsis when just hours old at the nearest health facility. Her father and grandmother stayed in the village to care for Tessie’s four other brothers and sisters while her uncle Theo * Rose’s brother and wife Dee * took baby Tessie and flagged down transport to take her to hospital.
Luckily Tessie had a large extended family in the village who are now bringing her up. Her uncle and aunty are adopting her as part of their family. They have a four-month old baby son who Dee is breastfeeding. She is also now breastfeeding Tessie and she is developing well.
The death of Rose was not only a tragedy for baby Tessie, but the lives of her immediate family and extended family have also been changed forever. Imagine this happening to 1,500 different families in PNG each year.
You can give a gift to other babies in PNG – the gift of their mother’s life. What greater gift is there?