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Some 870 deaths per 100,000 births among highest rates

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 16, 2008) –Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has been taken to task over a high number of mothers dying every year in Papua New Guinea due to pregnancy related complications.

President of the PNG Medical Society Dr Mathias Sapuri has written a letter to Sir Michael, saying 870 per 100,000 live births was a silent national disaster which needed an urgent national response.

This is 2600 women dying every year, according to the national demographic health survey carried out in 2006.

Dr Sapuri wrote the letter on Friday, after he returned from the Environment and Population Health Congress in Brisbane, Australia, where he learned that PNG had the highest maternal mortality rate in the Asia-Pacific region, and probably the worst in the world.

The figures for neighbouring countries are: Solomon Islands – 500 per 100,000 live births; Fiji – 50 per 100,000 live births; Australia have 4 per 100,000 live births. The figure was 370 per 100,000 in 1996 but had risen.

"Papua New Guinea MMR based on the 2006 survey is 870 per 100,000 live births. This simply means that approximately 2600 mothers die every year in PNG from pregnancy related complications," he said.

"Majority of these mothers die from preventable complications that are treatable," Dr Sapuri said.

"The causes include post partum hemorrhage, obstructed labor, puerperal infections, pre-eclampsia, anemia related complications, ruptured uteruses and ruptured ectopic pregnancies. This is more serious that HIV/AIDS mortalities, malaria mortalities, pneumonia mortalities, childhood mortalities, cancer mortalities, heart disease mortalities and other illnesses that affect Papua New Guineans today.’’

He said he could not accept the situation at this "day and age of human advancement that we are allowing our mothers, aunties, sisters and daughters to die and we keep quiet about this’’.

"This is not fair to our women, we must stand now and call for a national emergency response to deal with this matter as a national social and health emergency.’’

He also called for an affirmative action through the Health Ministry and the National Department of health to address this matter urgently, including setting up a maternal mortality task force with representation from the Government, professional groups and stakeholders such as development partners to address the issue.

When asked for his comments, Health Minister Sasa Zibe said he was aware of the situation with mothers and children in the country.

However, while there was political will to do something, technical people, including doctors must come up with a strategy to rectify the situation.

There is also the problem with the bureaucracy as he wants to do something but this system is not moving and he was frustrated.

For instance, he said, the Government has allocated K200 million to the Health Department which is still sitting there and not being used.

"Of the six million of our people, 80 per cent are living in the rural areas and this is also where the majority of our mothers are dying. Many of our doctors do not want to go to the rural areas. They are living in urban areas where they are serving only 20 per cent of our people.’’

He said Prime Minister and other politicians would make decisions such as set up a taskforce to address the issue, but they needed advice from the doctors.

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier: www.postcourier.com.pg/

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