Access to Emergency Maternity Care on Pacific Islands Severely Limited


Research for a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report The State of the Pacific’s Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health Workforce 2019 has found that in Pacific Island countries, access to emergency obstetric and newborn care, which is occasionally lifesaving, needs to be quicker. The research was conducted by Geographers at the University of Southampton.

Progress has been made according to a team from the University’s WorldPop project, however, in some areas, especially more remote areas, it can take up to 24 hours or more for pregnant women and infants to reach suitable emergency centres.

Limited access to appropriate comprehensive care means women and infants often have to travel far, including a combined use of boats, airplanes, and cares. Access to acute care in local centres in some islands is better.

This is the first large scale study into the Pacific Island regions regarding their maternity care.

Highly detailed, colour coded maps were drawn up, highlighting the travel times for different islands. Population figures and birth figures were combined to provide this date, along with the location and data of the emergency care provided, geographical terrain and transport services and infrastructures.

Some of the most isolated communities are on Tokelau off the coast of Samoa. Here there is no air access so they must take a boat, which can take between 24 and 30 hours to reach Samoa.

For Erromango citizens, they must endure a 10-hour truck journey to reach an airport for a 15-minute flight to hospital.

Even in large islands that aren’t so remote they face problems. In Papua New Guinea in country areas women face at least a 2-hour journey for emergency care. High mountains, fast flowing rivers and deep valleys make these journeys difficult.

The aim of the UNFPA report is to respond to the United Nations goal of ‘Good Health and Wellbeing’. They aim to improve healthcare for women and children and reduce mortality.

Dr. Natalia Tejedor Garavito, WorldPop commented:

‘The communities we have looked at are in many cases either great distances from main population centres or have very challenging terrain which makes for very long travel times to get to the right medical centre for their needs.

‘Quick access to emergency care can be a matter of life or death for mothers and their children and we hope our contribution to this report will help better inform policymakers in the Pacific region – enabling them to target their efforts effectively to improve transport infrastructure and healthcare provision.’

On the 13th July the report was launched at a conference by the Pacific Society of Reproductive Health in Papua New Guinea.


2019/2020 Deputy Editor. English grad with a love for giraffes, tea and travel.

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