Village Birth Attendants the difference between new life and death in rural Papua New Guinea

Village Birth Attendants the difference between new life and death in rural Papua New Guinea
SIMON DAY, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, WORLD VISION NEW ZEALAND

Pictured: Linda holds her daughter who was the first baby to born in the new maternity ward.

The village of Boroi was the most remote I’d ever felt. A three hour drive deep into the bush of Papua New Guinea’s Madang province, the roads were only accessible by 4WD. This same journey takes a whole day when using the unreliable public transport. Here, the remarkable community can often be cut off completely when the wet season leaves roads impassable. 

For years this made pregnancy a dangerous experience for many women in the village. Unable to travel the long distance to the nearest health clinic women would give birth in the bush - an unavoidable risk for mother and baby. 

At Boroi I met Linda, a young mother who, seven years ago, had little choice but to give birth to her first daughter in the bush near her home. When she went into labour it was too late, and it was too far for her to travel the many hours to the nearest health clinic. 

“I used to go to Bogia for my clinic though it was not working properly. I returned to the village and gave birth to my first born daughter. I did not give birth to her in a good place, it was deep in the bushes. Now she is seven years old,” says Linda. 

But over the last three years World Vision has refurbished the maternity ward of the village’s aid post and trained two local women as Village Birth Attendants (VBA). The VBA are taught to promote better health practices to expectant mothers, and ensure babies are happy and healthy before and after birth. They are equipped with basic instruments and trained to perform emergency births.

Pictured: Mama Begeri is a Village Birth Attendant in a remote village who has delivered almost 50 babies to pregnant mothers who cannot afford to travel to the nearest health centre.

“The mothers say that now, they will not go and use the bush to deliver their babies, we will come and deliver our babies in the proper place provided through World Vision and the New Zealand government,” says Josephine.

This made a big difference for Linda when she gave birth to her second daughter last year, the first child to be born in the new maternity ward.

“Through our VBA mothers (those who received VBA training) who advised us, I delivered my little girl here at the aid post, at the right place. Because they advised us, our births are now safe.” Since the clinic was opened in August six babies have been born in the clinic. And the VBAs have become essential voices in promoting safer maternal health practices in the community. 

“Our pregnant mothers are giving birth safely at our aid post. I am happy and I say thank you to World Vision and to you in New Zealand for funding these services for us.” 

Papua New Guinea has some of the worst maternal and child health statistics in the Asia Pacific region. An estimated 63 out of 1,000 children will die before their fifth birthday. And around 50% of children are malnourished. 

To compare: PNG’s Maternal Mortality Rate is 215 deaths for every 100,000 live births, in New Zealand it’s 11. 



Village Birth Attendant Josephine welcomed us into the Boroi community with a megaphone. Since receiving training from World Vision on safe motherhood and how to help with emergency deliveries, Josephine has become a vital voice for the community. The VBAs have helped change cultural birthing traditions and teach women how to stay healthy during pregnancy and keep their babies nourished after birth.

“The mothers say that now, they will not go and use the bush to deliver their babies, we will come and deliver our babies in the proper place provided through World Vision and the New Zealand government,” says Josephine.

Linda’s child was named after Josephine, who assisted the birth. She is proud of the important role she has in the community and has become a powerful voice for women in the village.

“The mothers say that now, they will not go and use the bush to deliver their babies, we will come and deliver our babies in the proper place provided through World Vision and the New Zealand government. We work together to bring changes to our community.”
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