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Broadcasters promote safe motherhood on radio airwaves

© Chambers/UNICEF PNG/2012
A man voices his concerns about safe motherhood during the outside live broadcast in Madang market.

By Noreen Chambers

We sat in stunned silence as we listened to a story of a young woman whose uterus had to be surgically removed after she punctured it with a stick while trying to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy.

She was 19 and in a desperate attempt to remove an unwanted pregnancy, inserted a stick into her uterus that caused the death of her unborn baby and permanently damaged her uterus. 

Then we were moved by a couple of other stories about women from remote communities who sadly passed away upon arrival at the hospital from pregnancy related complications. What is so tragic about these stories is the pain and suffering these women endure, not only because of pregnancy complications and lack of health services, but the additional challenges they overcome and the long distances they travel only to die at helps doorstep. These scenarios paint a disturbing picture of an alarmingly high maternal mortality situation in Papua New Guinea.

Sixteen broadcasters listen attentively as Dr.John Bolgna, a Specialist Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Madangs Modilon Hospital highlights the stories to make a point about safe motherhood and maternal mortality. The broadcasters, from the National Broadcasting Corporations (NBC) provincial radio stations in the Momase region, are in Madang for a week-long training on communication for development around safe motherhood and gender based violence.

It is important for the broadcasters to understand these issues. NBC in partnership with AusAIDs Media Development Initiative (MDI), UNICEF and the Department of Health, are promoting safe motherhood to help reduce PNGs maternal mortality. This training will enable them to increase coverage, news and programme content about safe motherhood to raise awareness, promote community support and in doing so, put pressure on authorities to improve health services.

The training is part of a flagship intervention and partnership between UNICEF and NBC to promote safe motherhood through the Yumi Halivim Mama initiative. The objective of the initiative is to use the NBC radio infrastructure to raise public awareness about health risks to pregnant women, help audiences identify those risks and save lives during pregnancy and childbirth, and encourage community support to maintain healthy environments for pregnant women and newborns. UNICEF provides technical expertise to design media messages, and NBC assures the delivery to the public through National Radio and provincial network. Six regional trainings have been done around the country and 111 broadcasters trained.

Papua New Guineas maternal mortality is considered a health crisis at 733 per 100,000 live births according to PNGs 2006 Demographic Health Survey.  This means for every 100,000 live births over 730 mothers die. This is the second highest in the Asia Pacific Region second only to Afghanistan and quite high in comparison to the rest of the world. Some 1,300 mothers die each year in the country during or following childbirth.

Maternal mortality, Dr. Bolgna explains, is death from pregnancy related causes which occur any time from conception to 42 days after delivery and includes abortions, diseases and illnesses during pregnancy and after delivery, and abnormal pregnancies.

As part of the initiative, NBC broadcasters promote six key messages through a rolling public service announcement (PSA) campaign – plan families, seek antenatal care during pregnancy, encourage male involvement, delivery plan including preparation for a supervised health facility delivery, reduce delays, recognize danger signs and act proactively, and encourage community involvement. Twenty three PSAs around safe motherhood have been developed and are currently on air.

A highlight of the regional trainings for the broadcasters is the live public two-hour outside broadcast they host in public places to ‘bring radio to the people’. These have proved very popular as they engage directly with the public face to face.

There are numerous tragic and disturbing untold stories of women dying from pregnancy related complications around the country. The promotion of safe motherhood through the six key messages and PSAs and the live outside broadcasts provide potential for behavior change.

Equally disturbing that the number of infant deaths  has not shown any significant decline over the years. PNGs infant mortality is also one of the highest in the Asia Pacific region.

Bernadette Imbosi, Madangs Provincial Health Promotion officer explains to the broadcasters the importance of the Supplementary Immunisation Activity (SIA) that Madang province will carry out in a couple of days. Diseases that can be easily prevented by vaccines are a major cause of childhood illnesses and deaths.

A targeted  35,000 children under 3 against will be vaccinated against measles and 104,000 women of child bearing age (15 – 45) against tetanus in Madang Province.

Ending preventable child deaths means, first, giving children a healthy start by providing pregnant mothers with quality antenatal care and adequate nutrition before and during pregnancy.  It means giving newborns a safe delivery, the ability to breathe in the first crucial moments of life, and proper nourishment to maximize their potential to grow. It means newborns are sheltered, breastfed, kept warm and shielded from diseases like HIV.  And it means protecting children from infectious diseases like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea  with vaccines, bednets, and antibiotics.

Immunisation is among the most equitable and most cost effective public health intervention that can be offered to women and children. With these efforts PNG joins the global community in committing to child survival through a Renewed Promise, a Commitment to Child Survival



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