Nearly eight weeks after the cyclone in Myanmar, which 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. 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.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, continues provide support to Myanmar to ensure that women can deliver safely and to meet other reproductive health needs. Supplies ranging from rubber gloves for midwives to hospital equipment have been delivered to the Ministry of Health for distribution to facilities in affected communities. More shipments are due to arrive in Yangon this week.
Mobile medical teams organized by the Myanmar Medical Association and UNFPA reached four more hard-hit villages in the Ayeyarwady delta and one in Yangon Division in the last two weeks and attended to hundreds of patients who had not had any health care since the cyclone. Reproductive health was a primary focus; 38 women had prenatal exams and over received 100 post-natal or birth spacing care. One expectant mother with dangerously high blood pressure was taken to Yangon for treatment. The teams also immunized infants and cared for children, men and women with a variety of conditions including hypertension, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. Team doctors reported that many of the villagers were malnourished and many needed psychosocial support. Follow-up visits are planned.
A temporary health clinic was opened in Bogale last week to support the mobile teams and to offer prenatal care and delivery referrals. Women who live far from the township hospital can stay at the centre while awaiting labour. UNFPA plans to establish two similar facilities in Labutta Township.
The Fund has hired staff to train health workers from other organizations providing medical services, to help them prevent maternal deaths, HIV transmission and unwanted pregnancies. Last week it trained six nurses from Médecins du Monde who will go to clinics in the delta.
Through various partners, UNFPA also continues to provide ‘dignity kits’ of soap, clothing and sanitary supplies to help displaced women and men maintain personal hygiene. These are often packed in buckets for collecting water. Youth volunteers have been mobilized to help assemble the kits.
As part of the humanitarian community’s coordinated response to Cyclone Nargis, UNFPA serves as the lead agency for reproductive and sexual health within the health cluster. As a partner in the cluster on protection of children and women, the Fund aims to ensure that recovery plans address the disaster’s impact on women and girls, including the potential for increased domestic abuse and sexual violence. UNFPA is also planning with other agencies to provide psychosocial care to women traumatized by the cyclone.
A revised United Nations funding appeal for Myanmar’s recovery needs over the next 12 months, reflecting a joint assessment completed this week, is expected to be launched around 10 July. UNFPA is requesting support to help restore life-saving reproductive health services by providing training, equipment and supplies, and to offer counselling and economic programmes for vulnerable women and girls.