Treatment for Mum’s deadly anaemia leads to birthday party for Tongan family

This story by Kalino Lātū was first published by Te Waha Nui

A Tongan family in Auckland is celebrating the second birthday of its youngest member after thinking for years another child in the family wouldn’t be possible.

THE PAONGA FAMILY (FROM LEFT): SIMAIMA (NAITE) PĀONGO, VEILI PĀONGO, SIONE MO’UI HE KELESI PĀONGO, SELA PĀONGO (CARRYING FIFITA VAVA’U TŌNUNGA KI WELLESLEY PAONGO), SYLVIA PĀONGO AND AKOSITA PĀONGO. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Thirteen years ago, Sela Pāongo was forced to have a medical abortion in Tonga because her anaemia meant she was at risk of losing her life, together with her unborn child.

Sela’s condition, caused by a lack of healthy red blood cells, can be deadly for pregnant women and she had been told to avoid further pregnancies since her condition could not be treated in the kingdom.

Sela and her husband Veili Pāongo, who have three girls, including twins born by caesarean delivery, and a son, thought their hopes of having more children were at an end.

But after moving into New Zealand in 2014, Sela visited their family doctor in Panmure for a routine check-up.

During a brief consultation, the doctor revealed the good news and said her condition could be cured.

Sela said the doctor gave her some medication for her anaemia.

“I was so excited after the doctor said there is a remedy for my condition,” Sela told Te Waha Nui.

On July 23, 2019 she gave birth to her youngest daughter, Fifita Vava’u Tōnunga ki Wellesley Pāongo.

A big family celebration was staged last year at their Pakuranga home to celebrate Fifita’s first birthday.

Last month, the family and their kāinga gathered again for a second celebration after Fifita turned two years old.

“I just wanted to share the news with our community because I know some people in Tonga have experienced this same problem especially it stopped them from having children,” Sela said.

Her husband Veili also welcomed the great news.

Veili said: “It is a blessing for us, and we are fortunate to come to New Zealand and be able to have Sela’s health issue resolved.”

Dr Saia Piukala at Vaiola Hospital in Nuku’alofa said abortion is prohibited in Tonga except when it comes to health condition like anaemia which could put the life of the mother at risk.

“That’s when we have medical abortion,” he told TWN.

Anaemia

According to a research, published in The Lancet Global Health journal, pregnant women with anaemia are twice as likely to die during or shortly after pregnancy compared to those without the condition.

The study  of over 300,000 women across 29 countries was led by Queen Mary University of London.

It said the disease affected 32 million pregnant women worldwide, and up to half of all pregnant women in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

“Women in LMICs are at increased risk of anaemia due to higher rates of dietary iron deficiency, inherited blood disorders, nutrient deficiencies and infections such as malaria, HIV and hookworm,” it said.

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