PNG Prime Minister Proposes Mandatory Childbirth In Hospital, Clinic

In effort to reduce infant mortality, O'Neill would effectively ban home births

By PNG correspondent Eric Tlozek

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Nov. 29, 2016) – Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister is proposing drastic measures to reduce the country's shockingly high maternal and infant mortality rates.

Peter O'Neill's plan would effectively ban home births, as he announced he would make it compulsory for women to give birth in a clinic or hospital.

"I am very determined to implement this," he said.

"There will be no excuses for mothers trying to give birth in remote areas."

Roughly 1,500 women die in childbirth every year in PNG, and infant mortality rates are similarly high — 45 babies out of every 1,000 die.

In comparison, in Australia, only three babies die out every 1,000 live births.

Health groups and doctors say PNG has such high mortality rates because almost half of the births take place at home in rural villages.

Mr O'Neill said he would change that by paying rural women to come to places where there were facilities.

"Our Government will fund mothers to come from villages and stay in urban areas so they can have the babies and then return," he said.

"This way our infant mortality rate will immediately drop, our maternal mortality rate will immediately drop. "

Lack of funding for health staff and facilities 'the real issue'

Mr O'Neill said doctors from Cuba — who will be sent to rural areas as part of a new aid deal — will help provide the extra care needed for the policy.

Doctors and motherhood groups were pleased the Government wanted to reduce the high rate of mother and infant deaths, but feared the proposal would be unworkable.

Professor Glen Mola, head of obstetrics at the University of Papua New Guinea, said the main problem was a lack of funding for health staff and facilities.

"If we've got the money, let's see it please… we desperately need it," he said.

"We don't even have gloves in the Port Moresby General Hospital National Referral Hospital, to put on to deliver women sometimes these days.

"We don't have basic supplies to care for women giving birth, so let's see the colour of the money please." 

PNG's Safe Motherhood Alliance, which represents maternal health organisations, has similar concerns.

Catherine Fokes, the alliance's director, said she was worried about the consequences of making supervised birth compulsory.

"I just would have to wonder whether making it compulsory is the answer," she said.

"If a woman chooses not to or is unable to get to a health centre to have her delivery supervised, what's the consequence of that?

"I would be very interested to know, where is the burden going to lie?"

PNG's rugged terrain, low population density and general lack of health facilities all make it difficult for the country's rural people to access healthcare.

Ms Fokes said those were just some of the problems that Mr O'Neill would have to address if he wanted the new policy to work.

"For rural women, what is the proximity to a health clinic, what is the geography like?" she said.

"How are funds, if the Government is going to make allowances available, how is that going to be made available? There's all these other implications that need to be considered."

Mr O'Neill said he would be announcing more details about the policy in the coming weeks, and plans to introduce the law to Parliament in January.

Radio Australia
Copyright © 2016 Radio Australia. All Rights Reserved

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment