Survivors Give Birth Without Basic Necessities
19 Jan 2005
19 Jan 2005
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia—Zakira was born last Saturday on a plastic tarp in an improvised camp for people who lost their homes in the Dec. 26 tsunami. She was born without the use of any medicines, sanitary supplies, even a piece of soap. The newborn’s aunt, who is a midwife, used a pair of paper scissors to cut the umbilical cord.
As the people of Aceh are trying to cope with the aftermath of the shocking disaster, they are in dire need of sanitary supplies and medical care for pregnant women—often ignored or forgotten during emergencies. In the Lambreh camp alone, where about 500 families have sought refuge, three women gave birth last week, all without the most basic obstetric care.
“One of the women started bleeding, but we were able to stop it and gave her lots of water to drink to avoid dehydration,” said Revita, Zakira s mother. She and her sister, both midwives, used to run a small prenatal clinic in Lambreh, before it was swept away, along with most of the rest of the village.
UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, estimates that there are currently nearly 15,000 pregnant women among the displaced population in the Aceh province. More than 800 of them will give birth this month.
“If these expectant mothers don’t get access to medical supplies and proper care, this can cause life-threatening danger to both mother and child,” said Dr. Melania Hidayat, an expert on reproductive health working with UNFPA in Banda Aceh. “Tetanus and infections are two of the most common consequences of lack of access to proper natal care. There is also a high risk of haemorrhage and maternal death under these circumstances,” said Hidayat.
Dr. Trisnawati Loho of the Indonesian Ministry of Health said that the maternity ward at the Kesdam Hospital in Banda Aceh is not functioning. “Aceh’s hospitals need portable latrines, medical supplies, hygiene kits, clothing and vitamins, especially ferum tablets to prevent anaemia in pregnant women,” she said.
The Lambreh camp sprawls across green, rolling hills, which under different circumstances would provide a scenic overlook of the ocean. The inhabitants of Lambreh are relatively fortunate, compared to many other communities. When the tsunami wiped away the small fishing village on the outskirts of Banda Aceh, most of its inhabitants did not perish. The village is located at the foot of the lush hillside, where most of them have now temporarily settled. More than 90 per cent of the population was able to run to safety as the gigantic waves crushed their homes, splintered their boats, and smashed their cars.
The displaced families are protected from the blistering midday sun as well as the occasional afternoon shower by blue plastic sheeting, but many other needs are still unmet. Lambreh and many other camps lack even the most basic sanitation facilities. This situation often affects women more seriously, as the conditions provide little or no privacy to wash or go to the bathroom.
“My husband brought some pieces of clothing and strapped them up for us to use as a shield while we wash,” Revita said. The fragile “shower cabinet” is barely waist high.
As devout Muslims, many women in Aceh are reluctant to go out without headscarves. UNFPA therefore provides headscarves as part of the hygiene kits that the Fund distributes in camps. “If women are not able to leave their tents, this will prevent them from accessing other basic services. The headscarves in the packages we provide the women therefore contribute to their mobility,” said Dr. Henia Dakkak, a UNFPA public health specialist.
Dakkak also points out that disasters do not only damage health facilities and ruin supplies, they can also kill and traumatize health personnel, potentially causing a collapse in the health care system in an entire region. The Indonesian Midwives’ Association said 30 per cent of its 5,500 members died in the tsunami.
UNFPA has so far distributed about 5 tons of basic hygiene supplies, such as towels, soap and sanitary napkins. The supplies also include medical equipment and medicines to ensure proper prenatal care and safe deliveries. About 14 tons of additional supplies are expected to arrive in Banda Aceh on 21 January. The supplies are distributed in cooperation with national and international non-governmental organizations, including GOAL, the International Rescue Committee, Islamic Relief, Medècins du Monde (Doctors of the World) and Solidaritas Perembuan (Women Solidarity), a Jakarta-based women’s group.
UNFPA is assisting governments and local populations in all the countries affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami. To support the Fund's emergency response to the disaster or learn more, please visit www.unfpa.org.
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