Month: March 2011

Food for Thought on International Women’s Day

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A baby breastfeeding.
Food for thought

While I was in Port Moresby last week I met with Colleen Westaway from the organisation Susu Mamas, an organisation which for the last 36 years has been focusing on reducing infant mortality through antenatal and postnatal care of women, babies and children. Statics for the last 10 years up to 2006 has shown a decrease in all child mortality rates except neonatal mortality. This is good news, but much work is still requires, especially through the lack of trained medical specialists across the country in particular midwives.

One point Colleen made stuck in my mind and I thought was worth mentioning as food for thought on International Women’s Day (8 March, the date this blog is published). Susu Mamas basically refers to breastfeeding in Tok Pisin (the unofficial national language which is more widely spoken than English).

A serious issue confronting Papua New Guinea at the moment is the near epidemic of HIV. How does an HIV positive mother care for her baby to ensure the disease is not transmitted through breastfeeding in the case where the baby is born without the disease? To be honest, it is not a question I had thought about much in the past.

I did know previously that many studies show the advantage of breastfeeding after birth for a range of reasons from nutrition to avoiding disease to socialisation and care of the child. I had not given much thought to complications associated with this.

There is medication both the mother and child can take which acts as a blocking agent to HIV preventing transmission that then allows breastfeeding, except it requires strict observing of the medication and breastfeeding exclusively (I think…I might have some of this wrong- I am not a doctor. But that is the point of this post- it is worth talking about. If you know better, please let us all know.)

Maybe there are more appropriate issues to discuss on International Women’s Day, such as the themes chosen by¬†Accenture in the UK (Stretch Yourself: Achieving 50:50 in the boardroom by 2020), and¬†IBM in USA (Women@IBM: Success in the Globally Integrated Enterprise). Those issues are also getting exposure in PNG which is good to see, such as discussion about a more equatable political representation. Surely the conversation is large enough to focus on this basic relationship between mother and child and to ask just why might things be so dysfunctional in some countries more than our own?

So how about it guys (the male variety): Spare a couple of minutes today to give this some thought!


I’m Back! (to the blog, and from Papua New Guinea)

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A man with his grandson in East New Britain, P...
What is poverty?

I just returned. Both to writing the blog, but also from a near life-changing experience in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea is a fascinating country. Truly the land of the unexpected. Arguably the most diverse country on earth, in every respect. Also a country which has been raped by years of colonial and neo-colonial intervention.

Papua New Guinea is a country rich in resources. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday quoted Stephen Promnitz who is still involved in mining interests in Papua New Guinea as a chief executive and formerly a young geologist with CRA who later merged with Rio Tinto. The article explained:

The 1988-89 (gold) rush left an impression. “It was the most astounding thing I have ever seen. There was more gold than you could poke a stick at. So much so that I thought I would never be looking for gold again. The locals were shaking gold nuggets from the roots of the grass. Some of the nuggets were the size of goose eggs“.

With so much abundance in resources, why then does PNG now have a near epidemic in HIV (close to sub-Saharan African levels) and the second highest rate of child mortality in Asia Pacific? Why is the average weekly salary for most people around K15 (about AU$4)? Forget US$1.25 per day…

I returned with fresh eyes seeing how child mortality is an important issue, and more than ever before I want you to be involved. I started taking photographs of human bridges while I was in PNG, and will post the link on Flickr here shortly. I deleted a whole bunch of photos accidentally (including some priceless photos of human bridges), which in itself was good food for thought- what did I really value: the photos or the emphasis on reducing infant mortality?

Taking photographs of human bridges was instructive. Approaching it from a Western mindset of order and sound structure just doesn’t work. People have their own ideas of what it means to build a bridge, and it is refreshing to see this human creativity at work, even if the finished project is a little lumpier than the perfect bridge that you might have wanted to see from the other side of the camera lens.

Sorry about the absence from the blog- a lot has taken place over the last month or so since I have been writing. To start, my friend Aaron suggested the focus of the event be squarely placed on the photographs of human bridges- after all, this is where the real work is in this initiative. This meant that no running will occur until 24,000 photographs of human bridges have been collected. This is a collective effort.

Earlier I had intended to start running on 1 March, and so this change meant I had pushed the start date to coincide with the Paris G20 Summit which was then scheduled for June 2011.

This suggestion was followed by news from my friend Mark that the Paris G20 Summit has been shifted to November- the G20 will now only meet once annually. This is in fact good for me. Consequently, the run will now take place across November to highlight to the outcome of the photographs gathered. It will travel through 10 countries, and while I will visit Paris, I don’t intend going to the G20 Summit itself- that money is better spent elsewhere. I intend to be running with other people in each city. It is fresh canvas again.

The timing change is good, not because it gives more time for preparation, but because it gives adequate time to focus on the curating of 24,000 photographs to form a pictorial petition to be given to the G20 leadership ahead of the November Summit. One photo for each child that dies on any given day (using 2008 figures). To reduce the infant mortality rate to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals target requires a further reduction of 10,000 deaths daily every day from the present infant mortality rate which sits are around 21,000 children under five who tragically and needlessly die daily.

Let’s get to work. Good to be back. Join me on this journey- I need your help.