PORT-AU-PRINCE — Women continue to give birth amid the chaos and devastation left by the massive earthquake that hit Haiti on 12 January. Hungry and homeless, traumatized by the scale of death around them, they writhe in labour on the streets surrounded by friends and relatives singing prayers of hope. They give birth in cars and tents, on park benches and bare ground, under blazing sun with little water, much less anything to ease the pain of the labour, and, often, crushed limbs.
The lucky ones manage to get to overcrowded hospitals or makeshift maternity wards and are assisted by volunteer doctors and nurses working with intermittent electricity and minimal equipment and supplies.
Recent BBC news reports captured the desperate situation of two of the women who gave birth here over the last few days. Even before the quake, Haiti was the most dangerous place to be a pregnant woman in the Western Hemisphere, with the lifetime risk of dying in childbirth of 1 in 47. Today, with health facilities destroyed, incidence of injury and trauma on the rise and malnutrition and disease setting in, that number is likely much higher.
Focusing on the needs of women
It’s estimated that some 63,000 pregnant Haitian women face the prospect of delivering in the aftermath of the earthquake. Of these 7,000 of these will deliver in the next month. Fifteen per cent of the pregnancies will require emergency care for life-threatening complications. Newborns face even higher risk.
One of UNFPA’s top priorities is protecting the lives of mothers and their newborns. UNFPA in Haiti has already supplied 1,800 safe delivery and reproductive health kits to still-standing hospitals, NGOs and mobile clinics with enough supplies to meet the needs of 150,000 women for three months. The kits were in a warehouse in Port-au-Prince that escaped damaged, allowing for rapid distribution of life-saving medicines, supplies and equipment for sterile deliveries, Caesarean surgeries and treatment of other reproductive health issues.
Reproductive health and dignity kits on the way
Over the next few days UNFPA is delivering another 173 kits to Port au Prince, with the first shipment of 29 arriving today. They include life-saving medicines, and supplies and equipment for sterile deliveries and obstetric emergencies, post-rape care , treatment of complications from unsafe abortions and to address other reproductive health issues such as sexually transmitted infections.
In the next few days, 20,000 dignity kits will also be delivered to Haiti. The kits contain items such as sanitary napkins, diapers, anti-bacterial soap, and other hygiene and cleaning supplies that allow women to live with dignity and tend to their children even amidst the worst circumstances.
UNFPA is also providing emergency assistance in the border town of Jimani, where more and more people are arriving everyday from Port au Prince. Four truckloads of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and equipment have been supplied to hospitals in or near Jimani. Pharmaceuticals include those to treat infections, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, anaesthesia, dehydration solutions and IV fluids.