Papua New Guinea: High Maternal Mortality Rates

Worldwide maternal mortality rates declined by 34% from 1990 through 2008.  In Papua New Guinea, however, maternal mortality rates doubled in that time period.  The United Nations Development Programme said that the 2011 rate was 250 deaths out of 100,000 live births in the Asian country.  The high rate of death during childbirth has been blamed on gender inequality, poor use and availability of family planning, and the crumbling rural healthcare system.

The World Bank estimates that 17% of the national population does not have access to a road, while 40% of the nation's healthcare facilities do not have running water or electricity.  Given the difficulty of accessing basic healthcare, it is not surprising that over 65% of expectant mothers deliver at home.  The Burnet Institute of Medical Researchestimates that a third of deaths during delivery could be prevented with better access to basic, community-based health care.  But the country spends very little on healthcare, only 2.6% of the gross domestic product, and members of the Department of Health have been the subject of embezzlement investigations.

Another contributing factor to the high maternal mortality rate are the high rates of sexual abuse and rape.  Nazarene Hospital Administrator Scott Dooley reports: "Many women experience forced sexual relationships, even in marriage.  Pregnant women are also particularly high-risk for physical domestic abuse.  We have seen this result in the loss of pregnancy many times."  Unsafe abortions also constitute a major problem in a country where rape is a serious problem. 

Compiled from: Catherine Wilson, Papua New Guinea's 'Missing Mothers' Prompt Rural Healthcare OverhaulIPS: Inter-Press Service News Agency (20 April 2012).