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In North Fly District, Western Province, health care facilities serve dozens of disparate communities. Some of these are only accessible by boat along the Alice River, others may be completely inaccessible by transport and must be reached on foot.

“We face so many challenges with transportation not reaching the majority of our areas,” said Sr. Philomena Sanduku from Catholic Health Services in Western Province. “This means women and girls are not accessing basic, clean supplies to maintain their menstrual health and hygiene.”

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), through its humanitarian programme, provides dignity kits to women and girls affected by humanitarian events, including natural disasters, violence, and health crises. Access to essential hygiene supplies, including soap, toiletries, and menstrual hygiene products, is essential during and following emergencies to prevent the spread of infections and preventable illness and also for women and girls to maintain dignity when access to these supplies is limited.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, UNFPA has been supplying dignity kits to communities in Western Province that are considered most at-risk from COVID-19.

“It is difficult to reach these remote areas and most times our female folk are neglected in this basic, but important, need,” said Sr Philomena.

UNFPA utilises a network of partners, including organisations like North Fly Catholic Health Services, to distribute the kits. This provides important opportunities for outreach on reproductive health and menstrual hygiene for local healthcare providers.

“The distribution of the kits has also helped us to promote antenatal clinics, safe deliveries and postnatal care,” said Sr Philomena. “Our indicators are increasing, and the kits are attracting women and girls even for voluntary counselling and testing.”

In reflecting on the work of UNFPA in Papua New Guinea on World Humanitarian Day 2022, UNFPA Country Representative, Marielle Sander, said that emphasis must always be placed on building the resilience of existing systems.

“It is important to strengthen the relevant existing responders, such as health care providers and community organisations, so that they are robust and ready in times of crisis, so that they ensure that essential supplies reach our women and girls when and where they are needed,” said Ms. Sander.

From a total of 150 dignity buckets received by North Fly Catholic Health Services, 120 have already been distributed across eight health facilities in Kiunga, Matkomnai, Tarakbita, Kungim, Membok, and Iowara, reaching into Middle Fly and to some of the most vulnerable communities in the Kiunga area.

UNFPA’s dignity kits, generally, contain menstrual pads, bath soap, multiple pairs of underwear, detergent powder, a flashlight, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a comb, all housed inside a backpack or easy-to-carry bucket. Each of these items is catered to the specific needs of women and girls.

“It is very challenging accessing our basic necessities and the shops in the area are very expensive and low quality which most times is discouraging,” said one young woman recipient of the dignity kit. “UNFPA has shown us great care and love by providing us with the quality of these items which is beautiful and has indeed helped our health and hygiene.”


UNFPA and Humanitarian Response

UNFPA Papua New Guinea works to ensure women’s and girl’s sexual and reproductive health needs and rights are upheld during and following humanitarian emergencies. This includes the provision of dignity kits and reproductive health kits that provide basic hygiene supplies, safe birthing supplies, and STI and pregnancy testing. Kits have been distributed to the Highlands Region following the 2018 earthquake, Western Province during the COVID-19 outbreak, communities affected by tribal violence, and more recently to Enga Province to support women and girls displaced by election-related violence.