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!