To most of us, nappies, underwear, sanitary pads and baby powder are little more than everyday basics. But to women in Papua New Guinea, they are literally lifesavers.
“Baby bundles” sent from Australia to women in a PNG province are being credited with lowering the maternal death rate by a huge 71 per cent.
According to The Guardian, for every 100,000 live births in PNG, 200 to 500 of the mums do not survive. In the Milne Bay province, the death rate can be as high as 700. By comparison, in Australia it’s six per 100,000 live births.
Five years ago, Australian doctor Barry Kirby travelled by boat to villages throughout Milne Bay’s 160 islands to find out why the province had such a high number of maternal deaths. He found that most of the mums died of blood loss at home because they didn’t go to a clinic to give birth. Many of the women did not go to a clinic because they were “shy at presenting in an impoverished state and not having baby’s clothes”.
With help from Australian charity Send Hope Not Flowers, Dr Kirby started a program that provides essential items, as well as education, to pregnant women. More than 3000 “mother baby gifts” have been delivered so far. The program also supplies health centres with funds for medical treatment, training in emergency medical care and obstetrics, and reward payments for taking on extra supervised births.
And now, research published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology shows his program has had a “dramatic” effect.
The province’s 10 health centres saw a 71 per cent increase in supervised deliveries from 2012 to 2014. Deaths during childbirth dropped from between 25 and 30 in 2011 to just five the following year.
Send Hope Not Flowers board member and obstetrician Professor Steve Robson says the results are extraordinary. “This was such a profoundly simple solution, and an elegant solution, to a disastrous problem,” he tells The Guardian.