COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Women and girls caught up in the ongoing warfare in northern Sri Lanka are at grave risk, according to UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The Fund is assisting civilians who have escaped the combat area but remains greatly concerned about the health and safety of the tens of thousands who remain, particularly pregnant women.
Some 32,000 displaced persons have reached Vavuniya district this month, including an estimated 700–800 women at different stages of pregnancy. Pregnancy-related disabilities and death often rise in conflict situations when reproductive health services, including prenatal care, assisted delivery and emergency obstetric care, are disrupted and often unavailable. Many women lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unwanted pregnancies in perilous conditions.
UNFPA, in cooperation with district health authorities, is supporting Vavuniya and Mannar districts by providing emergency transport for life-saving obstetric care. Surgical instruments for Caesarean operations have been provided to the Vavuniya General Hospital, which serves displaced women with pregnancy complications. At the same time, clean delivery kits are being distributed to pregnant women in camps for the displaced.
Mobile reproductive health clinics offering a range of reproductive health services – including prenatal and postnatal care and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV – have also been set up in these two districts. Sanitary towels and undergarments are being provided to allow women and girls of reproductive age to maintain their basic personal hygiene. UNFPA is also working closely with health authorities to ensure that camps for the displaced have separate bathing and toilet facilities for men and women and well-lit paths for the safety of women and girls.
“Women do not stop getting pregnant or giving birth to their babies even when on the move or when living in camps,” said Lene K. Christiansen, UNFPA’s Representative in Sri Lanka. “Being able to maintain personal hygiene is not only a matter of health but also one of individual dignity,” she noted. “We try hard to make sure that these women and girls have access to needed services.” She also emphasized that the health authorities in Mannar and Vavuniya are doing an admirable job under very difficult circumstances.
With the influx of civilians to Mannar and Vavuniya expected to continue in the coming weeks, UNFPA, working with other UN agencies, plans to increase its support in response to the growing needs. It seeks additional donor support for this effort as part of the United Nations Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka, launched on 18 February 2009.
Ms. Lankani Sikurajapathy