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Australia must act to protect region’s mothers

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the Australian Government can no longer ignore the fact that women are dying on our doorstep in horrific numbers while giving life.

This week the New Zealand Parliamentarians’ Group on Population and Development’s Open Hearing on Maternal Health in the Pacific has heard evidence that Papua New Guinea has the worst rate of maternal death in the Pacific, a situation which has worsened in the last decade.

“Papua New Guinea has the second worst maternal mortality rates in the world – it’s in our backyard and we can’t ignore it,” said Senator Hanson-Young, who is the Australian Parliamentary Group for Population and Development’s representative at the hearing.

“Papua New Guinea is the largest recipient of Australian aid funding, yet the stories of maternal death show we need to work harder to save vulnerable lives.”

Senator Hanson-Young said new AusAID guidelines which lifted restrictions on medical advice to women, approved by Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith last month, were an improvement on the previous regime. However, she said Australia needed to take a stronger role in promoting health and education for young women in the region.

Speakers pointed to two key areas where developed countries like Australia could help: funding training and support for midwives and health professionals, and funding data collection programs to fill the gaps in knowledge.

Senator Hanson-Young said there were limited options for training in the region.

“We need a commitment from countries like Australia to fund training for more health workers and midwives to work on the ground with families,” she said.

The hearing also heard that teenage girls in the Pacific region were twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth as other women.

“Now that the AusAID guidelines have been changed, Australia must not shy away from promoting basic reproductive education for young women at risk,” she said.

“Reducing maternal mortality rates reduces childhood mortality rates, which would free resources to solve other problems.

“The Greens recognise women’s rights as human rights, and will continue to push the Australian Government to live up to the Millennium Development Goals of improving maternal health and reducing child mortality.”

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