The walk to have her baby took Jennifer Ongani seven hours.

She felt the birth pains coming on a Monday and knew it was time.

Early in the morning, Jennifer left her village, in the isolated, mountainous province of Malaita in the east of the Solomon Islands, and began her journey, alone, through the bush.

February in Malaita is wet, and hot. As Jennifer slogged on, her belly heavy in front of her, the tropical downpours left the ground soggy and her clothes damp.


She grew tired, but kept walking. It was her fourth baby, and thanks to the many journeys she'd made for pre-natal check-ups and her previous births, she knew the road well.

She also knew the dangers of not making it down to the Area Health Clinic at Nafinua, on the coast.

"Two people from my village have died on the way to the clinic," Jennifer says. Her English is hesitant, learned at primary school and used rarely in the 30 years since, but she wants to talk.

"One woman delivered on the way to the clinic and the baby died. Another time, the woman died."

Not all of the women make the journey alone. Sometimes their husbands go with them. And when the women are too weak or sick, the villagers carry them.

"Between 2000 and 2016 we carried 14 of them to Nafinua," Jennifer says. "It is very hard."

Nafinua is the only clinic in east Malaita. It has no doctor. Four nurses and a midwife work on an on-call roster. If there are emergencies, the patients are taken to the hospital in Auki - a boat ride and three-hour drive away in a hired truck that costs $100 each time.

On Tuesday, when Jennifer's labour passed 48 hours, nurse Beverley Mae decided, despite the cost, she needed to go to Auki.

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"We were on our way in the truck, about a kilometre up the road when she gave birth. So we came back again."

The young nurse has allowed Jennifer to stay at her home while she recovers, and so the baby has been named Beverley in her honour. The day we visit, Jennifer is still exhausted, but both she and nurse Beverley are keen to highlight ongoing issues with access to healthcare.

Jennifer says a clinic is to be built in her village but it's unfinished. There are dozens more villages in the hills with limited support. Some have nursing outposts, but not all.

In South Malaita, World Vision trains Village Health Volunteers to work alongside registered nurses at community level, a project so successful the Government has asked for a policy paper.

The project didn't have enough funding to run in the east as well. With more money it could be extended. Without it, the five nurses at the Nafinua clinic have to do their best with what they have.

"The population is growing but we don't have enough," says Beverley. "There's never enough money."

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