THE $10 million maternal and child health initiative in Papua New Guinea funded by the Australian government is beginning a new phase this year.
While proving highly successful in raising the quality of midwifery education in PNG, it still faces many challenges in helping lower the high rates of maternal and child death.
In a crowded Port Moresby hospital ward, a midwife attends to a young woman giving birth. As any caring professional would, she prays for no complications.
However, troubled birth or not, the midwife knows she won't have time to stay until the end of the procedure. With only rudimentary supplies and equipment on hand, she will see over 20 mothers-to-be that day, many of them lined up in the corridor outside.
When Adjunct Professor Pat Brodie first visited PNG 15 years ago, she was shocked to say the least.
"It was very confronting. Essential supplies such as water, gloves, electricity – as well as any degree of privacy – were all extremely deficient. It was the equivalent of many third-world situations."
Returning in 2010 as an advisor for the World Health Organization, Brodie realised many of the same problems she encountered 15 years earlier had not changed.
"PNG is often compared to the rest of the world as only second to Afghanistan in terms of maternal health care and child mortality. It's on par with many African countries."
Maternal health services in PNG continue to be hard to access. Nearly 90% of the population lives in rural or remote areas. According to a 2011 report by the United Nations Population Fund, half of all births in PNG are not attended by any skilled health personnel, and there's just one midwife for every 1,000 births. Poverty, illiteracy and a lack of women's autonomy compound the problem.
The facts seem overwhelming, yet more midwives and higher quality midwifery education are a simple and very effective part of the solution. They are the focus of the UTS-led Maternal Child Health Initiative, closely partnered with PNG's National Department of Health and funded by the Australian Government.
Since starting in 2012, the Maternal and Child Health Initiative in PNG has improved learning and collaboration opportunities for midwifery educators, as well as established a better clinical education experience for students. More midwives have graduated in the past two years than in the previous decade.