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Current situation

PNG has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world with around 1,300 women dying every year as a result of pregnancy-related problems.

The main causes of death are post-partum haemorrhage (bleeding), hypertensive disorders of pregnancy (such as eclampsia), consequences of unsafe abortions and sepsis (a whole-body inflammatory response to infection).

To understand and address the issues women and girls face when trying to access a safe child birth, the ‘Three Delays Model’ is used and it identifies three groups of factors: delay in seeking care, delay in arrival at a health facility, and delay in the provision of adequate care.

For women living in rural areas, the risk of dying in childbirth is four to eight times higher as compared to urban areas. This can be attributed to a number of factors including:

  • Unsupervised deliveries or those without a skilled birth attendant are common
  • A lack of access to maternal health services. Of all mothers who deliver in PNG, less than 60 per cent access antenatal services and only 40 per cent of births are supervised by a skilled birth attendant
  • A lack of health facilities and supplies. Most rural health facilities are in dire need of repair and provision of supplies. The geography of the region provides a unique challenge for the provision of reproductive health services and commodities
  • Low level capacity. Health staff commonly struggle and lack the skills to provide effective treatment and services
  • Unmet needs for family planning and contraception. A third of married women in PNG have an unmet need for family planning, that is they want to stop or delay childbearing but are not using any method of contraception and only 32 per cent are using modern methods of contraceptives
  • Sensitivity surrounding sexual and reproductive health. Cultural barriers and a highly religious society can make it difficult to discuss and address issues.

On average, Papua New Guinean women have four children and the Total Fertility Rate in PNG has remained high, ranging from 4.4 births per woman in rural areas to 3.6 in urban areas. The adolescent birth rate is high at 13 per cent, 22 per cent of 19-year old women have at least one child and 6 per cent have two or more children.

Infant mortality is also high in PNG. At 75 deaths per 1,000 live births, there has been no real decline over the last 10 years of under-five children dying of preventable causes.

What are we doing?

Protecting a woman's life when she is giving birth is the central aim of UNFPA’s Sexual and Reproductive Health programme.

We work within a framework that involves three interventions to save a woman’s life:

  1. universal access to contraception to avoid unintended pregnancies;
  2. access to skilled care during delivery; and
  3. rapid access to quality emergency obstetric care.

UNFPA supports overall health system strengthening and demand creation for reproductive health, providing technical assistance and capacity building to Government counterparts and civil society organizations.

UNFPA Supplies - a proven method to get help to those who need it most:

  • The UNFPA supplies program in Papua New Guinea is a flagship programme that helps the nation build stronger health systems and widen access to a reliable supply of contraceptives and life-saving medicines for maternal health.
  • It’s one of the largest providers of contraceptives in the country. Through a network of area medical stores in Lae, Port Moresby and Mt. Hagan and in conjunction with the National Department of Health, UNFPA delivers hundreds of thousands of condoms to these regions for distribution every year, as well as hundreds of boxes of other contraceptives such as IUDs and implants and an extensive supply of maternal health medicine, such as oxytocin.

These supplies have the power to change lives – and to save them. They also contribute substantial cost savings for families and the country.

UNFPA Supplies is a proven mechanism that is continually improving the efficiency of the procurement and supply of reproductive health supplies in PNG by:

  • Building capacity through training for primary health workers in family planning services and in supply chain management for reproductive health medicines. Computer and software training is also provided to area medical store staff to improve management of their supply chain
  • Strengthening national capacity and systems with other partners to put in place a logistics information management system that will allow for registration of medicines and medical equipment and inventory management
  • Advocating for better sexual and reproductive health supplies - we support policies and strategies development, promote coordination and partnerships and build political commitment.