Child mortality, maternal health care, the empowerment of women, education access, and child protection are still issues of dire concern in Papua New Guinea.

Along with diseases like malaria and TB, malnutrition is still the underlying cause of death in children under the age of five.

And a recent trip by UNICEF’s Assistance General Secretary Fatoumata Ndiaye and Karim Hulshof UNICEF’s Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific has again revealed an underlying threat.


“The major cause of maternal death for example is sepsis and that is infection and post-partum hemorrhage – lots of blood that women lose after birth.”

Hulshof and Ndiaye were in Goroka in the Eastern province of PNG recently where they saw three new born infants close to death.

“We saw with our own eyes how it is to have a sick new born child and a few of the new born children that we saw probably three out of the 12. Chances are the three we saw at the neo-natal ward may not be with us anymore. The doctor gave 5 percent chance of survival. So these are realities.”

However, UNICEF says many things are happening to help improve the situation but emphasised the need for better accountability.

“If we do more of capacity building at a very local level, deep down in the villages and communities, we can quite quickly have a very positive, further positive impact.”

The need to develop human capacity is vital.

“We know very well that no one can solve anything alone, so when it comes to maternal child health, neo natal health, we first work very closely and government to with the World Health Organisation so that the norms and standards, what is it that we are supposed to deliver to children, men and women when it comes to services, so that these services are up to the quality level.”

The visit also highlighted the need for capacity building at community level.

“We need people and people need to be skilled and trained and that is something where of course government puts money in and UNICEF I believe we are also doing enormous amount of capacity building of nurses, midwives, health staff and health clinics and hospitals and then we also need to revisit how services are delivered.

Hulshof called for the construction of hospitals for the effective delivery of health services to especially women.

“Some infrastructure still needs to be expanded if we are to promote that all babies be delivered in the hospital then we need to expand also the capacity for institutional delivery, the infrastructure and also the human resource capacity. So that’s where we are currently working with the government on, so it’s very concrete, very direct and it’s at a quite large scale.”

However, Ndiaye advocated for the education and nurturing of people if women are to be given the care they need.

“The best system is the people system. How much care, how the roles within the family unit are being played for positive mothering. There is a part on how we organise the flow of services but the most fundamental part is the resilience of the people, how strong they are, how strong they are made by the family unit, by the community. How gender roles, the role of women and the role of men, girls and boys, parents and children are being played.”

“We also appreciate that as we care for our children we cannot remove that away from how gender issues are being played. This is why it is so important that when we talk about gender and how to promote the role of both women and men, boys and girls – both have to be cared for.”

Boys and men, Ndiaye says must also be cared for so they in turn appreciate and do the same to girls and women in their lives.

“The young boy has to be cared for so that he knows how to care for others and the young girl has to be cared for so that she cares for others because when you are not alone and you are a young woman who is pregnant if you have someone who is next to you who thinks and who feels that you are part of his family, he has a duty, not only a duty but the love to care for you. It just makes everything easier. It makes the care and it makes the health, it makes the mental health which is so important for physical health happen.

“So these are things that we have to promote, to see more of within the family unit, to have the opportunities to make sure that because this will also take care of gender based violence.”

UNICEF’s work on women empowerment and child care are interrelated.

“You cannot take care of maternal health, if you don’t take care of infection and the environment in which the woman is being pregnant and is having her baby. But not to forget the most effective system is the people system,” Ndiaye said.

However to effectively deliver health care services to women and children, proper data collection is vital.

In a meeting with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, government officials and NGOs, the role of women and how women’s rights and children’s rights were discussed.

Hulshof says these issues are directly linked to violence against children and women and any discussion about prosperity and sustainable development goals of Paua New Guinea needs to put women and children at the core.

“I believe that it’s the goal of each and everyone in the country we have to start at the core and the core is everyone counts – being a child, being a woman, being a man, so we are focussing and we will do much more when it comes to gender, men and women in society and we also had the opportunity to talk with a large delegation from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, looking at ways on how to address the issue of violence in a more positive manner.”

She said by having discussions with the Chamber of Commerce, they also wanted to work answers on how women are not only safe at home but in the workplace as well.

“How would it be if all of us can live and work in safe and secure environment twenty four hours a day. We thought if we join hands with all the industry here, the chamber of commerce, other UN Agencies, maybe churches and NGOs we would be able to create a movement focussed on positive transformation so not only talk about violence, violence, violence but how we would look like if we go home to a safe and secure house with healthy people living in that house.”

“Going back to the visit that we did over the last few days we have to say also that in Papua New Guinea when it comes to children the first day in life is the still the most dangerous in the life of a new born. Born in Papua New Guinea if there is no pre natal check-up or you live very remote from a health …the chances of survival are limited so this new policy for government to start strengthening the health systems by doing much more capacity building of health workers and community.”

Ensuring women access health services on time is another issue they hope effective data collation will help address.

“How do you bring women on time to health centres and clinics and hospitals, so that is not so easy in Papua New Guinea because women may live far away from the health centres, so for that purpose we are also looking at improving the capacity of birth attendants and midwives so those that are living in communities, not everyone can easily access institutional delivery, whoever works on the ground in the community is better trained and slightly better equipped so those are some of the things we are doing.”

Ndiaye said as a woman all she hopes for are communities that empower women.

“And to be empowered you need education, you need a family around you, you need to be free from violence, so it’s not one thing because one thing will just not make it, you need to deliver your children safely, you need the environment around you to be clean so that your children do not die from malaria, from TB, so it’s this whole range of things that are all important for women. Women are never about one thing, they are about full quality of life, and it is full quality of life for children that we are looking into, that we are concerned with, that as a woman I am concerned with and I want it all, I don’t a part of it. I want my children to be healthy, I want them to be educated, I want them to have a future, I want them to have an environment that is sustainable, that is clean so all of these things – it’s the whole package so I think it’s something the women here of Papua New Guinea also want. They want the full package.”