UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, continues to help Myanmar ensure that mothers can deliver safely and to meet other needs in reproductive health and women’s protection.
As part of the revised interagency funding appeal launched today, UNFPA is asking donors for $7 million to help restore life-saving reproductive health services by providing training, equipment and supplies, and to offer counselling and support for vulnerable women and girls.
Over two months after Cyclone Nargis, which severely affected some 2.4 million people, international relief efforts have moved into the recovery stage. But despite the substantial aid already delivered by various partners, thousands of survivors have still not received the basic assistance they need.
Meeting Reproductive Health Needs
On top of other needs, many pregnant women lack clean and safe delivery options and antenatal care due to damage to health facilities and a shortage of medical staff. At least 10 midwives perished during the disaster, in an area where maternal health care was already inadequate.
Within the humanitarian community’s coordinated response to Cyclone Nargis, UNFPA co-chairs the health-cluster working group on sexual and reproductive health and HIV.
Supplies ranging from rubber gloves for midwives to hospital equipment have been delivered to the Ministry of Health for facilities in affected communities. Some 20,000 clean delivery kits have been distributed through various partners – international and local NGOs, community-based organizations, mobile clinics and individuals.
UNFPA has opened two maternity waiting homes in Bogale and Labutta, and plans to establish two more in Dedaye and Yangon. Women who live far from the township hospitals can stay at the homes while awaiting labour. The centres also offer prenatal care and delivery referrals, and each is the base for a mobile clinic that travels to cyclone-affected villages to provide general and maternal health services.
Working with the Myanmar Medical Association, UNFPA has hired 11 doctors to staff the clinics and is recruiting seven more. The mobile teams have already provided services to more than 2,200 people in 10 hard-hit and difficult-to-reach villages, including nearly 300 pregnant women in need of prenatal care.
The Fund has also supported the establishment of two other clinics in Ngapudaw and Bogale townships; these have served over 2,700 people to date.
UNFPA is working to expand implementation of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP), an internationally agreed set of activities to prevent maternal deaths, HIV transmission and sexual violence in the early stages of a crisis.. It has conducted five MISP orientation sessions for UN staff and NGO partners, and nine for general practitioners. Two local instructors will provide MISP training to health staff and programme managers from a wide range of government and non-governmental organizations.
Through various partners, UNFPA has provided over 30,000 displaced women with “dignity kits” of clothing and personal hygiene supplies; kits for newborn baby care are planned. Youth volunteers have been mobilized to help assemble the kits.
Through its partners, UNFPA plans to undertake reproductive health rapid assessments in the cyclone-affected areas.
Other plans include: collaboration with the International Organization for Migration in reconstructing and supplying delivery rooms at damaged health facilities, and providing related training; and creating a network of reproductive health service delivery points in cooperation with Marie Stopes International, Population Services International and other partners.
Women’s Protection and Psychosocial Support
Grief and distress due to the May catastrophe are widespread and debilitating. Many women and girls, destitute and dependent on others for basic needs, are at increased risk of abuse, violence and exploitation.
UNFPA chairs a technical working group on women’s protection, which aims to incorporate protection issues into all sectors of the disaster response and to support the various “non-protection” clusters in recognizing their roles and responsibilities in ensuring the protection of women. The Fund intends to support the Department of Social Welfare in conducting a comprehensive women’s protection assessment of the cyclone affected areas and creating an action plan in response.
Along with other agencies, UNFPA intends to offer psychosocial support to women experiencing distress as a result of the cyclone, and to train service providers and community support groups on positive and appropriate coping strategies. Systems will be developed to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, including the creation of women-friendly spaces.