The Australian Government’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative has profiled CARE Australia’s work to successfully support maternal and child health in the rural Highlands of Papua New Guinea.
There are very high rates of maternal and infant death in rural Papua New Guinea. This is because of the poor state of the health system, and also because people do not access health centres and don’t have much information or awareness about some key health issues. This project focused on the latter – improving people’s health knowledge and willingness to seek out healthcare. It also operated on the assumption that health systems are more likely to improve when people demand it.
Importantly, the project worked to improve gender equality as well as health outcomes as they go hand in hand. For example, as a result of the community workshops they ran, about a quarter of participants indicated there was less forced sex, about half of couples talked more about contraception with each other, and men participated in household chores more. It also led to community leaders in one area to agree to end a custom that prevented women from delivering babies in places where a man might want to go - such as a health centre. As a result, a few weeks later, the first baby was delivered in an aid post was build in 1982. By the end of 2017, 24 babies had been delivered in that safer environment.
Specifically, the project:
Strengthened people’s knowledge of health issues and understanding of harmful gender norms.
Strengthened health infrastructure, upgrading four health facilities, vaccinating almost 7,000 children, screening almost 3,000 for malnutrition and providing contraception advice to over 200 people
Strengthened the health workforce by undertaking a series of training and mentoring programs around sanitation, maternal health, nutrition, gender norms (and the importance of reducing the physical work load for pregnant women). Much of these trainings support volunteers in remote locations to assist their communities’ needs and they are integrated into the national health system.