ISLAMABAD – Thousands of pregnant women uprooted by floods face heightened risk of death and disability unless relief efforts can be scaled up quickly to meet their needs, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, warned today.
Nearly 500,000 of the 21 million flood-affected Pakistanis are pregnant, UNFPA estimates. Every day, some 1,700 will go into labour; more than 250 of them will experience complications that call for lifesaving medical intervention.
Yet most of those displaced in the crisis still lack access to proper health services, including skilled delivery assistance.
Noor Bano, 32, is an exception. She was anaemic and exhausted when her labour pains started on Sunday. Her flight from the flood had included a three-hour trek carrying two small children and two days sheltering beneath a bridge without food or water.
| Midwife Farzana Sarki delivered Noor Bano's baby in a tent at a camp for flood victims.
Photo: William A. Ryan/UNFPA
But Noor ended up in a camp in Sukkur visited regularly by a UNFPA-supported medical team. The team gave Noor a prenatal exam and left a phone number. Noor’s mother-in-law called, and community midwife Farzana Sarki came quickly to help Noor deliver her sixth baby in the family’s tent.
It was Farzana’s 18th delivery in two weeks. Since early August, UNFPA has deployed obstetricians and midwives in 23 mobile teams and 14 health centres in flood-affected areas. They have attended some 1,500 births, treated 300 women after suffering miscarriages, and referred nearly 200 mothers to hospitals for Caesarean sections.
Shahnaz Seelro, Noor’s neighbour in the camp, gave birth before reaching the camp – in the trailer of a truck hired to carry her family away from the flood. With no skilled birth attendant, her life would have been at risk had anything gone wrong.
| Shahnaz Seelro gave birth in the trailer of a truck as her family fled the flood.
Photo: William A. Ryan/UNFPA
Maternal mortality is high in Pakistan in normal times; the UN estimates that 320 women die for every 100,000 live births. Trauma, malnutrition and poor hygiene make flood victims more vulnerable.
As part of the coordinated humanitarian response to Pakistan’s emergency, UNFPA is focusing on safe delivery and other reproductive health concerns. It is helping assess needs for basic services as the floods continue to displace people, and for restoring damaged health centres and hospitals after waters recede.
“We urgently need to scale up reproductive health care to the flood victims,” says Dr. Naseer Nizamani, UNFPA Assistant Representative in Pakistan. “The number of women who still lack assistance is enormous.”
Besides supporting health authorities in flood-affected provinces, UNFPA is conducting reproductive health training and offering critical supplies to nongovernmental service providers. These range from clean delivery kits for births outside health facilities to medical instruments and essential medicines for clinics offering safe deliveries.
The Fund is also, among other things, providing personal hygiene supplies and working to protect displaced women and girls from violence.
As estimates of flood damage and displaced people continue to grow, so do estimates of the resources required to respond. UNFPA is currently seeking $12.6 million for relief and early recovery activities in the next 12 months. International donors have pledged $3.5 million to date.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.
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