Architecture students from the University of Melbourne have designed and built a neonatal centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that addresses the importance of sanitation in reducing mortality rates.

Led by Dr David O’Brien from the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, the initiative was carried out with consideration of the unique challenges faced by the remote Suanum community on the northern coastline of PNG.

“The Suanum community of almost 100 people has no health facilities available to them within a three-hour radius,” said Dr O’Brien.

“Like all coastal communities, Suanum is also at risk from rising sea levels. The traditional pit toilets flood during high tides, spreading human waste throughout the community.”

Prenatal complications are the leading cause of death in PNG, with less than 50 per cent of women giving birth at a health facility or hospital. Infant mortality rates are more than ten times higher than Australia, at 47 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in PNG.

“Safe and clean facilities reduce the physical and mental risks for the mother and child in the first month after birth. The facilities we have designed will improve health outcomes, while also respecting the community’s strong cultural traditions,” Dr O’Brien said.

The new sanitary neonatal centre sleeps up to four women, and includes clean running water, an innovative composting toilet system, an ablutions facility and a room for storing medication. It is lit with solar lights at night, and locally managed to ensure that the overall project remains sustainable over the long-term.

The $60,000 initiative is jointly funded by the Australian High Commission Papua New Guinea’s Direct Aid Program and the University of Melbourne’s Bower Studio project, a program that allows students to work alongside indigenous groups in remote Australia, Thailand and PNG to improve the built environment. 

COMMUNITY LEADERS: Deane Woruba, Hosea Rapson, Dezek Sowut, Campbell Woruba, Jimmy Kalebe, Monica Woruba

STUDIO LEADERS: Dr David O’Brien, Trevor Galgal, James Neil, Matt Breen, Ilari Lehtonen, Dr Keith Galgal

STUDENTS: Dena Barr, Kathleen Kopietz, Heather Mitcheltree, Amy Boxi Wu, Mitchell Gow, Justin Milesi, Alex Bell, Brendan Josey, Jason Pun, Mark Casey-Losewitz, Hamish McWilliam