Babies dying off Australian shores

By Katherine Devorak

One out of every thirteen babies die right off Australia’s northern shores. It is not hard to imagine why this is so little known. Because of the remoteness, media coverage is difficult to access in the province of a nation that ranks lower in poverty than countries like Ghana and Kenya.

Approximately 220 km’s from Australia’s mainland lies a country where one child in every thirteen will die before the age of five years, a rate far greater than any other in the Pacific region. Today approximately 7.15 million people live in Papua New Guinea.

Baby-Umi-from-Bami-Village-Western-Province“I have eight children”, one mother said. But only four children played together in the yard. When asked where the other four played, she answered, “They died”.

RN and midwife, Naomi Colwell, is currently on the NGO Medical Ship in the Western Province of PNG helping teach mothers how to care for their babies.

Naomi visits villages teaching local health care workers and mothers. In addition to attending to health concerns and treating patients, she and others set up day and week long clinics to equip and train locals.

Naomi’s first patient this trip was little Umi. Umi’s family live in the village of Bami. Umi was eight weeks old and weighed just 1.7 kilos. A healthy baby at the same age should weigh about 4.7 kilos. Umi’s mother had to leave her baby in the care of her husband or a neighbour while she worked in the fields making sago (a local food source from trees) each day, but she did not let the neighbouring women feed her baby for fear of disease.

Naomi was able to explain to Umi’s family and the women in the village that it is safe for different women to nurse the same baby. Simple education like this makes a difference between life and death.

A volunteer who assisted Nurse Colwell, Nathaniel Baldock said, “It seems that death is so common that it was strange for us to suggest changing the way things are done so that Umi can live.”

Nathaniel said, “It must be difficult, it seems to have always been like this and from their perspective how could it ever change?”

Experts debate the reasons. Is the cause of poverty lack of knowledge? Many people agree

education plays a big role in bringing people out of poverty. Regardless of the reasons why Papua New Guinean babies are dying, at least part of the solution is empowering local mothers with knowledge and hope.