Sea ambulance saving lives in remote Papua New Guinea

08/08/2012 16:32

Marida Kaduwesaki and baby Isaac at the Alotau general hospital. Picture

and story courtesy of AusAID.



Marida Kaduwesaki could have easily been one of about 1500 women who die in childbirth each year in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

However after hours of travel in rough seas and strong winds between Kiriwina and Alotau, the capital of PNG coastal province Milne Bay, the mother and her baby were safely delivered under caesarean section at the Alotau General Hospital.

Mrs Kaduwesaki and baby Isaac have returned to Losuia, the government station on Kiriwina Island but their survival is a testimony to the impact that a sea ambulance can have on saving the lives of ordinary Papua New Guinean mothers in coastal and island communities.

Their names will also go down in the log book of MV Hinau Natuna, which coincidentally was launched hours earlier in Alotau before it began the 575 kilometre journey equipped with a two-member boat crew, an obstetrician, a medical doctor and James Green, the boat trainer from Australia.

The vessel is the second sea ambulance to be donated by AusAID to help improve health outreach services to remotes areas in PNG. The Daru-based MV Medics Queen has already operating along the South Fly coast in Western province.

Just hours after the launch ceremony of the MV Hinau Natuna, an emergency call was received from Losuia. A first time mother was facing a prolonged labour and the baby was in the breech position. The mother had been in labour at the Losuia Health Centre for 24 hours and without medical attention her and her child may not have survived the birth.

There were few options available to the Health Centre staff who were caring for the mother the best they could. The 90 minute flight to Alotau General Hospital was not leaving for another 72 hours. Small ferries, which are a popular mode of transport in the coastal province, would take 32 hours to reach the mother and get her to the hospital. The commonly used 24-foot dinghy with a 40 horse power engine would be too risky over such a distance.

An estimated 1500 women die in childbirth every year in PNG.

On this occasion there was an additional option for the mother.  The Milne Bay provincial health authority dispatched the MV Hinau Natuna at 8:30 pm the same night and after 15 hours of travelling the ambulance arrived at Losuia Health Centre to collect Mrs Kaduwesaki who was in great pain. The medical specialists provided treatment on board the MV Hinau Natuna for the return journey to Alotau.

Milne Bay provincial health authority CEO, Billy Naidi, said the emergency typified the health needs of the province and the sea ambulance would help save lives throughout the islands.

“We named the vessel the ‘Hinau Natuna’ meaning ‘my mother’s child’ in the Tawala dialect of Milne Bay to signify the commitment of the Milne Bay provincial authority to help mothers deliver safely,” he added.

“Mothers from the outer islands die during child birth because they can’t get specialist care or there are no drugs and they get an infection. We thank AusAID for the support which will assist us in reducing the number of mother and child deaths.”

AusAID is partnering with a number of provincial and district health services to provide better health care to Papua New Guineans. In 2011, Australia distributed 16,060 boxes of medical supplies to 706 health centres and 3,000 aid posts – over 95 per cent of all health facilities in PNG. In 2012 Australia will provide AUD73.5 (K160 million) to strengthen PNG’s health system to deliver better health services across the country.