Background: Papua New Guinea is a developing country with a population of six million, facing significant geographical, cultural and economic barriers to the provision of antenatal and intrapartum care. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is an internationally regarded index of the quality of a country’s maternity services; the most recently reported MMR for Papua New Guinea of 773 deaths per 100 000 births is one of the highest in the world.
Aims: To review information about women who died from pregnancy-related causes, both direct and indirect, in the Goroka General Hospital (GGH) during the period 1st January 2005 to 31st May 2008.
Methods: A retrospective review was undertaken of the charts of women recorded as dying in the Obstetrics and Gynecology (O&G) ward of GGH in the study period.
Results: The charts of 21 women who died from pregnancy-related causes were reviewed and information collated. Puerperal sepsis and sepsis complicating unsafe abortion were the most common causes of maternal death accounting for 48% deaths. Other causes included ectopic pregnancy and postpartum haemorrhage. Contributing factors included residence in a rural area, geographical and transport difficulties accessing care, non-use of family planning services, non-booking for antenatal care and late presentation in pregnancy or labour, and under-resourcing of services at GGH. The socio-economic status of most of the women was low, and where educational attainments were recorded these were also low. 71% of women identified themselves as practising Christians.
Conclusions: Better outreach services to provide health information and antenatal care, with specific counselling about the need for supervised delivery, are urgently required in the Eastern Highlands Province that GGH serves if numbers of maternal deaths are to be reduced. Working through churches in the region may be the most appropriate way to provide information and services to women because a majority of women adhere to Christianity and can be reached in this way.