Karen is a Registered Nurse / Midwife, lactation consultant and humanitarian who tells us about her experiences Nursing in Papua New Guinea with the Australian Volunteer Program – educating locals and delivering babies in the jungles and beyond. We hope you enjoy and get inspired!

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About Karen

Hi my names Karen, I am a nurse/midwife/lactation consultant and more recently a Maternal Child Health (MCH) nurse. I have worked in the city, urban, rural, private, public and community settings. Nursing has given me the freedom to stretch my wings and try so many different things, sometimes it’s been hard to choose which direction I want to follow!

Every experience has been important, none of them goes to waste. I was in remote PNG last year teaching midwifery skills to health volunteers when a lady fell from a tall betel nut tree, and my old ED skills came in handy as we assessed and managed her injuries.

Nursing in Papua New Guinea

For three years I have been volunteering in PNG, in two weeks stints, every 8 months, to teach community health workers and village volunteers about life-saving midwifery skills. The NGO (Living Child) I worked with has reduced the maternal mortality rate significantly in the Keram district of PNG.

As a part of a team, we trained Health Care Workers, Registered Nurses, Village Health Volunteers and Birth Attendants about ‘Safe Birth, Safe Motherhood’. Included antenatal, labour, postpartum and neonatal care. This included breastfeeding, family planning and menstrual hygiene messages.

It feels surreal, using a generator in the jungle to project information, pictures and videos to teach these people how to assess a pregnant woman. We ask for pregnant ladies to volunteer their bellies as we teach the workers to ‘see’ with their hands and use a gestation wheel.  One of the villages developed a ‘sing-song’ approach to learning danger signs in a pregnant woman. It is so important for them to recognize when a woman needs to get on a boat and go down the river to life-saving assistance.

The NGO was gifted a life-sized pregnant belly to practice safe delivery, some days I push out about 40 babies and I love hearing the local ladies tell each other off if their colleague ‘gets it wrong’. But the thing that floored me the most were the myths and practices around breastfeeding. We spend a lot of time talking about the fact that colostrum is not poisonous, and that feeding the baby only breastmilk is so important for disease prevention and growth.

‘Colostrum is the first form of milk produced by the mammary glands of mammals immediately following delivery of the newborn. Most species will generate colostrum just prior to giving birth. Colostrum contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease’.

I can understand that they leave a baby on the ground to see if it breathes, why would you bond with a baby if it’s going to die? And yet, together we have challenged those ideas and encouraged these ladies to lift bub straight to their breasts, skin to skin, give tactile stimulation and the neonatal mortality rate has diminished.

Australian Volunteer Program

Through my association with the first NGO, I became aware of a volunteer role through The Australian Volunteers Program working with WaterAid in the same province I have already been volunteering.  We are developing an education package which will address breastfeeding, infant nutrition and hygiene. This is because the infant stunting and mortality rates are so drastic in PNG.

I am mentoring an Environmental Officer from the Provincial Health Authority. It is an innovative district-wide campaign and if it works well, it will be replicated throughout the country.  I am privileged to be putting not only my nursing and midwifery skill into practice but also community development strategies and I am loving my steep learning curve yet once again.

DID you know: ‘Papua New Guinea (PNG) is facing a nutrition crisis, with almost one in two children in PNG having stunted growth, secondary to malnutrition. PNG has the fourth highest child stunting rate in the world. According to the Papua New Guinea Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) 2009-2010, the child stunting rate is 48.2%. However, it is estimated that the rate is now 49.5% based on modelling undertaken by the according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, as published in the Global Nutrition Report 2016: From Promise to Impact, Ending Malnutrition by 2030″.

Interesting article by the World Health Organisation (WHO) ‘Skilled Professional Care: at birth and afterwards’ click here to read.

The Australian Volunteers Program is an Australian Government initiative that supports skilled volunteers in 26 countries as part of Australia’s aid program. For more information about the Australian Volunteers Program, or to learn more about how to become a volunteer nurse, visit australianvolunteers.com