College of Medicine and Dentistry

Publish Date

10 September 2020

The toll of pregnancy

JCU PhD candidate Relmah Harrington is one of the many women in health working to create a safer future for families in the Pacific. Relmah is an experienced nurse, midwife and educator researching how family planning services could save lives in the Solomon Islands.

Imagine a commercial plane, carrying 200 passengers crashing every six hours, killing all passengers continuously the whole day, the whole week, the whole month and the whole year. In 2017, more than 800 women died worldwide every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy. Globally, strong advocates support the use of family planning contraceptives as cost effective interventions to reduce these deaths.

The Solomon Islands is a low-income pacific nation. About 80 per cent of people live in rural and remote areas. On average, one woman dies every three weeks from pregnancy complications. Imagine you are a father in the Solomon Islands expecting the birth of your next child. You did not plan this pregnancy, it just happened. Your wife leaves to give birth and does not come back. You are shocked to hear she tragically dies giving birth. No more hugs, no kisses, there was no good bye. Thoughts raised in your head, "who will bring home food from the gardens?", "who will take care of the children?", "who will do the washing or cook?". How can these tragedies be prevented and the situations improved?

Relmah Harrington and her daughter
Solomon Islands village
Relmah with her daughter (left) and a typical Solomon Islands village (right)

Finding a solution

We need to reduce the passengers boarding that fateful flight. In my research, I want to add in different ways that everyone is able to choose and use contraceptives regardless of who they are and where they live.

To understand this, I work with two health facilities in urban and rural locations. I have looked at the clinical reports and talked to women, men and young people along with health care workers and managers. The preliminary findings show that these health services are not accessible for everyone. This means that many are missing critical contraceptives and lives have been put at risk.

As a Solomon Island midwife researcher, I am seeing implications for my colleagues, for policy makers and for individuals who need to make these choices for themselves and for their spouses. So why should we care about those lives lost in that plane crash every day? Because beyond these numbers are girls and mothers who have left loving families behind, this is challenging especially in rural areas and we need to act now to ensure no one is left behind.

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Featured researcher

Relmah Harrington

PhD Candidate

Relmah Harrington is a midwife and nurse educator from the Solomon Islands. She has been practising as a nurse-midwife for more than 20 years, teaching midwifery for 15 years and has great passion for midwifery practice. Relmah attained a Certificate in Nursing, Atoifi College of Nursing, Solomon Islands in 1995 and a Bachelor in Midwifery at Massey University, New Zealand in 2001. She also completed postgraduate studies including an International Postgraduate Paediatric Certificate from University of Sydney, Certificate in Education from Solomon Islands College of Higher Education and Postgraduate Certificate in Public Health from Fiji National University.

During 2005-2006, Relmah taught in the Advanced Diploma Midwifery in Honiara, when the Ministry of Health piloted the Midwifery program. From 2015 to 2016, Relmah coordinated and taught the Bachelor of Midwifery at Solomon Islands National University. Relmah is currently studying a Doctor of Philosophy (Health) at JCU (2020-2022). Her research focus is to improve family planning in Solomon Islands.