Australian High Commission
Papua New Guinea

121031 - AusAID MR - Maternal hotline operational tomorrow

31 October 2012

Maternal Hotline Operational in Milne Bay Province

Efforts to reduce the numbers of mothers and babies dying in childbirth in Papua New Guinea received a boost today with Australia and PNG launching the Childbirth Emergency Phone project in Milne Bay Province.

From 1 November, a free-call hotline will be operational so that health workers can get advice during childbirth complications.

The hotline is the first of its kind in PNG and will provide health workers mainly in rural and remote areas with a direct link to a trained health worker in the Alotau Hospital labour ward, 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Solar mobile phone chargers and books on maternal health will also be provided to rural health centres in the province.

The project is funded through AusAID’s Economic and Public Sector Program, and is the brainchild of Professor Glen Mola of the University of PNG’s School of Medicine and Health Science.

"There are many reasons why PNG, including Milne Bay province, has a high maternal mortality rate where it is estimated that five women die every day in childbirth.Some women think it’s unnecessary to have a supervised birth in health facilities. Even if a woman is able to get to a rural or remote facility there is often a lack of skilled staff and equipment to assist if there are complications,” Professor Mola said.

“Because women are not coming to facilities for birthing assistance, they do not have access to family planning advice and services and often end up having unplanned pregnancies or pregnancies that are too close together.

“I had the idea to set up a hotline because health workers need more support. I expect the hotline will encourage more women to make the effort to have a supervised birth in a rural health centre because they know they will get expert advice if something goes wrong,’ Professor Mola said.

Australia and PNG supported Professor Mola’s proposal and AusAID agreed to fund the pilot project in Milne Bay Province, and will help to extend to other provinces if proven successful.

Milne Bay Provincial Health Authority, Chief Executive Billy Naidi said, “PNG has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. Particularly in our Province, patients are unable to access the hospital because of rough seas and strong winds.

“Rural health workers will now be able to use their mobile phones to receive real-time advice during time-critical medical emergencies.”

Head of AusAID in PNG, Stuart Schaefer, said Australia was interested in finding innovative ways to address health issuesand the hotline project was one of a number of measures the Australian Government was taking to help the PNG Government address the high maternal death rate.

“Australia is helping PNG address this issue on a number of fronts. Research shows that in Milne Bay Province only 40 per cent of mothers will have a supervised delivery at a rural aid post. Those mothers who deliver in anaid post sometimes do not get access to the right drugs,” Mr Schaefer said.

“So to address these issues Australia is training 500 midwives and refurbishing and re-stocking aid posts. We recognise that sometimes there will be complications during childbirth, no matter how well-trained staff are or well-stocked the aid posts are, so we have put in place additional emergency measures such as a Sea Ambulance in Alotau and now the Childbirth Emergency phone project.”

Further Information
The Economic & Public Sector Program is an AusAID program managed by Coffey International Development.

Contact Information
AusAID: Michael Wightman, First Secretary, Public Affairs
Phone: 7200 7826
EPSP Research Consultant, Dr Amanda Watson
Phone 7206 2997