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Australia helps more PNG mums and babies

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Thousands more newborn babies and their mothers will be helped in Papua New Guinea, with the expansion of a successfully piloted project across the country.

Australia’s aid program has injected more funds into the project.

The innovative program, known as the maternal and newborn care project, focuses on preventing neonatal hypothermia in newborns and managing bleeding after delivery, which is a common cause of death in mothers.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), in partnership with the Papua New Guinea National Department of Health, will expand the program now the funds have been committed.

“Once implemented, this initiative will save the lives of thousands of newborns and their mothers, as well as provide training to parents, carers and health workers about caring for babies over the first month of life,” said UNICEF Australia’s Felicity Wever.

“A key element of this initiative is an anti-hyperthermia bracelet, known locally as Bebi Kol Kilok, which will help prevent annual deaths from hyperthermia among approximately five thousand premature and newborn children.”

Papua New Guinea has the highest rate of newborn deaths in the region, with about 6000 babies dying every year before they reach four weeks of age.

Aside from addressing critical child survival issues, the project involves care of mothers through active management of the third stage of labour, prevention and management of post-partum haemorrhage and maternal anaemia, as well as early detection and referral of sick mothers by community health workers.

PNG Health Minister Sir Puka Temu said: “Our Government is focused on reducing the high maternal and neonatal mortality rates. This is a highly cost-effective intervention. I’m also very excited that fathers are recognizing the important role they can play in baby care by holding the baby close to their body for warmth.”

The Australian Government’s funding support will enable UNICEF to work with the PNG Government to strengthen capacity in the hospitals and health facilities that will deliver the care of newborns and mothers, to assess and remove bottlenecks in the delivery of these care services and to empower communities with skills to continue care at home.

In collaboration with the PNG Health Department, UNICEF will work directly with provincial health offices, district authorities, church health services and local non-government organisations.

Together, they will roll out the first round of the program in all provincial hospitals and district facilities. Seven additional districts will roll out community based maternal and newborn care in facilities that deliver more than 50 babies per year.