Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a mother, an Australian aid group has found.

Women in PNG are more than 35 times more likely to die during pregnancy than women in Australia, and more than half have no choice but to give birth at home, according to ChildFund Australia.

“No woman should die giving birth. Yet in a country just 160 kilometres north of Australia, women are losing their lives every day during childbirth due to unsafe conditions and causes that are completely preventable,” ChildFund CEO Nigel Spence said on Tuesday.

Unlike other developing countries in the region, maternal mortality rates in PNG are getting worse.

PNG map

Papua New Guinea is just 160km from Australia.
Universal Images Group Editorial

Mr Spence said more women are giving birth without the help of a trained health professional or birth attendant and some are completely alone during labour.

“There’s a severe shortage of health professionals. The numbers of doctors, nurses, midwives, trained birth attendants in Papua New Guinea is way short of what it needs to be.”

With 85 per cent of PNG’s population living in rural areas, pregnant women face a long and difficult journey to their nearest health clinic.

“Where they exist they are often desperately under-resourced, many without running water, without electricity, without functioning toilets, even without the most basic medicines,” Mr Spence said.

Women and their children at a health clinic in PNG.

Women and their children at a health clinic in PNG.

A mother’s grief

PNG resident Stella has given birth to seven children.

Once a week, she walks to the cemetery where four of her babies are buried, their small cement grave sites surrounded by pink flowers.

Towards the end of her last pregnancy, Stella was worried that she could not feel her usually active baby moving once her contractions began.

“I felt something was wrong,” Stella said. “I couldn’t feel the baby moving.”

The graves of Stella's babies that did not survive birth.

The graves of Stella’s babies that did not survive.

“I told my husband, ‘there’s something wrong with me, you need to take me to the hospital,” she said.

After finding a driver to take them to the nearest clinic and enduring a painful ride over a dirt ride, they arrived to find it empty. She then travelled another 12 kilometres to a different clinic. With still no sight of the baby, she was transferred to the Port Moresby hospital.

By the time she arrived three hours later, she held her lifeless baby in her arms, the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.

For anyone that hasn’t experienced it, Stella says it’s impossible to imagine the pain of losing a baby after carrying them for nine months.

“I don’t want other women to suffer what I have suffered,” she said.

More aid needed

ChildFund equips and trains volunteers to support pregnant women, new mothers and babies in developing countries including PNG.

“Australia has the ability to help our neighbour in preventing these needless deaths through simple interventions like improving basic health care at the village level,” Mr Spence said.

Village health volunteer Patricia (right) with mother Judy, whose baby she helped deliver.

Village health volunteer Patricia (right) with mother Judy, whose baby she helped deliver.

Australia-based maternal health charity Send Hope, Not Flowers also funds midwives to train villagers in PNG to help women in labour and encourage women to make the difficult trip to have a supervised birth.

Co-founder Emma Macdonald said the charity also funds the work of Dr Barry Kirby, who uses a seaplane to reach women in some of the most remote parts of PNG.

“Even with a seaplane he can be walking through jungles to access some women that need him,” Ms MacDonald said.

She said one of their most successful programs has been providing baby bundles to women after Dr Kirby discovered that poverty was a barrier to women going to a health clinic.

“They were embarrassed about their poverty. They had nothing to put their newborn babies in, they had no clothes, no nappies, no supplies.”

The program is estimated to have reduced deaths by 78 per cent in the three years since the bundles of supplies were first provided at clinics.

Describing the PNG health system as a worsening crisis, ChildFund’s report warned of an extreme shortage of hospitals, clinics and healthcare workers.

The agency found there was only one doctor for every 18,000 people in PNG compared to one for every 300 in Australia.

It also found for every nurse in PNG, there were 65 in Australia.

– With AAP




The CFK team are seen here organising our next training trip in August 2018 for our most experienced 25 VBA’s from Kiriwina. Midwives Shea and Jacqui will be supported by Vanessa and myself. All have generously volunteered their time and skills again to come on this next training trip to support our fabulous Village Birth Attendants. Our in country manager is traveling to Alotau this week to continue to sort out the logistics. He has also organised the boat trip across to Kiriwina to deliver the last lot of Birthing Kits we sent to Port Morseby.  Although the closed airport on Kiriwina has increased the difficulties of our mission it is full steam ahead. This closure has also increased the costs involved. Please help us and donate: CLICK HERE TO DONATE.



Pregnancy and childbirth can be a beautiful time in a woman’s life, but it can also be one of the most challenging.

At worst, it’s heartbreaking.

Every day 830 women and 7,000 newborns around the world die from preventable life-threatening conditions and complications.

Almost all these deaths have occurred in developing countries, where healthcare services are dire or conflict is rife.

Many of these deaths occur in rural and remote regions, and are preventable with better access to clean and safe equipment, medication, and well-trained health workers who can provide immediate support and advice, or referrals, to women when needed.

World Health Organisation data shows the most common complications – accounting for 75% of maternal deaths – include: severe bleeding (usually after childbirth); infections (usually after childbirth); high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia); complications during delivery; unsafe abortions; and diseases such as malaria and AIDS.

The biggest killers of newborns include prematurity, complications during birth, or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis.

So where are the most dangerous places for a woman to be pregnant and give birth?


This south Asian nation, sandwiched between war-torn Afghanistan and bustling India, has long been marred by political, social and economic challenges, including gender inequality, terrorism and conflict, poverty, and illiteracy.

Women comprise more than half of the nation’s population, but have far fewer rights and opportunities than their brothers, sons, fathers and husbands.

The World Bank data shows about 60% of households are in regional or rural areas, where there is no or little access to healthcare services, support and advice, making pregnant women and their newborns one of the most vulnerable sectors of society.

According to UNICEF, Pakistan’s newborn mortality rate is the worst in the world, at 45.6 deaths per 1,000 live births. In comparison, the rate in Australia is 2.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Neonatal sepsis and infections, pre-term birth complications, birth asphyxia and birth trauma make up the top 10 causes of deaths in the country, according to the World Health Organisation.

Sierra Leone

This minerals-rich nation, well known for its diamonds trade, on the African west coast is one of the most dangerous places for a woman to be pregnant.

According to the most recent UN data, Sierra Leone has the world’s highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, at 1,360 deaths per 100, 000 babies born. This is equivalent to eight maternal deaths a day.

It’s estimated up to 6% of women in Sierra Leone will die as a result of maternal causes, such as severe bleeding, sepsis and hypertension, during their reproductive life.

Like Pakistan, war and conflict has long marred development in Sierra Leone. Poverty is widespread and it’s estimated about 60% of the population lives below the poverty line.

Between 2014 and 2016 the nation – along with its neighbours, Liberia and Guinea – also faced the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The epidemic killed more than 11,000 people.

A long history of poverty, disease and conflict has taken a toll on Sierra Leone’s health and prosperity.

Across the country quality healthcare services and workers are few and far between, impacting the most vulnerable members of society – pregnant women and their babies.

Papua New Guinea

This Pacific nation, Australia’s closest neighbour, is a dangerous place for pregnant women and their newborns, not only because of widespread poverty but also because of overwhelming incidents of domestic violence.

According to Human Rights Watch, Papua New Guinea is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman or girl, with an estimated 70% of women experiencing rape or assault in their lifetime.

It starts before birth. One study of 200 women who had been pregnant at least once found 86% of participants had been beaten in their last pregnancy.

A healthy mum and bub are truly miracles in Papua New Guinea, where there are severe shortages of health clinics, hospitals and trained healthcare workers.

On top of widespread domestic violence, Papua New Guinea has severe shortages of healthcare clinics, hospitals, doctors, nurses and midwives, particularly in rural areas where about 85% of the population live.

Accurate statistics on Papua New Guinea’s maternal mortality rate are difficult to source because of a lack of reporting throughout the country.

According to locally and internationally produced data and research, the maternal mortality rate is in the hundreds per 100,000 live births.

In Australia, the rate is 6.8 deaths per 100,000 women giving birth.

In some parts of the country, less than one in five women in 2016 gave birth in a facility with a skilled birth attendant present.