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Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Research Program

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Speaker: Speech by The Ambassador for Women and Girls, Natasha Stott Despoja AM (check against delivery)

Cocktail Launch, Parliament House

I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners, I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I also acknowledge:

  • The Hon Fiona Nash, Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate, Assistant Minister for Health (representing the Prime Minister Tony Abbott).
  • The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition
  • Professor Brendan Crabb – Director and Chief Executive of the Burnet Institute
  • Dr Michelle Hendel, the Burnet Institute

This event is always one of my favourites: a chance to catch up with friends and former colleagues and to showcase the work of The Burnet Institute.

The Burnet holds a unique position in Australia -- probably globally-- of being a combined medical research and public health institute and also being a signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct, a non-government organisation (NGOs) working in many resource-poor communities in our region.

Previously, I've been honoured to MC this evening in my former capacity as a non-executive Director of the Board but, tonight, I am wearing my new hat as Australia's Ambassador for Women and Girls.

My work as an Ambassador dovetails perfectly with the work of Burnet, thematically and geographically.

The promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are core priorities of our aid program, especially in Papua New Guinea.

We do this through:

  • advancing equality of access to education and health;
  • increasing women's participation in decision-making and leadership;
  • Increasing women's access to economic opportunities, and
  • preventing, and combating, violence against women and girls.

We are strongly committed to maternal and child health in PNG.

Despite persistent efforts, health outcomes remain unacceptably low in PNG.

Women and children in remote areas fare worst: with estimates that the Maternal Mortality Rate in PNG is between 250 and 733 per 100 000 live births.

As we've heard tonight, mothers in PNG are, on average 80 times more likely to die in childbirth than in Australia. A major contributor to this maternal mortality rate is that only 40 percent of women deliver their babies under the supervision of a skilled birth attendant.

We know we need a sustained focus on gender to improve women's health, something of which Burnet is acutely conscious.

This includes efforts to eliminate gender-based inequalities in education, income and employment, as well as addressing gender-based violence.

Women in the Pacific face the highest levels of violence in the world (this figure is as high as 90 per cent in PNG).

Along with my work in addressing gender-based violence in PNG, I am glad that we support the refurbishment of midwifery schools; improved midwifery education, new midwifery curriculum and registrations for nurses and midwives.

We've helped train 100s of health workers in Emergency Obstetric Care and family planning.

And we have improved gender equality through targeting an increased proportion of women (71% in 2014) to participate in health workforce training through the in-country Australia Awards program.

You've heard tonight about the Healthy Mother, Healthy Babies Pilot in East New Britain.

It is a comprehensive program providing health education delivered to 1500 new mothers and 450 fathers on neonatal care; specific education, focusing on male involvement and support for women during pregnancy, childbirth and infant care, delivered to 450 expectant fathers; and support for 60 midwives through targeted information to encourage male partners to accompany their partners to clinics, and attend birth, as appropriate.

I am proud that our Government supports such important and life-saving work.

The responsibility for improving health outcomes shouldn't rest solely with the health sector. All sectors – government, corporate, private philanthropy – can help in achieving better health outcomes for vulnerable population, and promoting the health and education of women and girls in Papua New Guinea.

The Burnet Institute is one of the great medical research and public health institutes in our county, and I am so pleased to be associated with it.

Last Updated: 22 September 2014
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