|© UNICEF Myanmar/2008/Stechert|
|Families in Myanmar benefit from the support of local midwives as they battle to prevent disease in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.|
By Anna Stechert
KANYINHINE VILLAGE, Myanmar, 24 December 2008 – Daw Aye Aye Mon, 31, has been working as a midwife for 10 years. The mother of two is taking care of patients in six villages. Her health centre is located in Kanyinhine, about a two-hour boat ride from Labutta.
Kanyinhine looks like a refuge camp. Almost all the houses were flattened by the winds or swept away by the floods of Cyclone Nargis. Residents have built flimsy shacks with tarpaulin sheets and wood alongside the pathway. Trees are uprooted or broken off, there is hardly any shade.
The cyclone left only part of the school and swept the village’s water tank several hundred metres from its original location. The local health centre lost its roof, and the floods ruined everything inside.
‘I had nothing left’
Daw Aye Aye Mon lost all of her midwifery equipment and drugs in the disaster.
“I had nothing left, but I had to manage somehow,” she recalls. With the help of donations from the government health department and families in the area, she managed to treat minor injuries. More severe cases were referred to the Labutta hospital.
The donations held her over, she says, until she received a UNICEF midwifery kit. It contains basins, thermometers, stethoscopes, scalpels and essential medications. “With the kit I can treat my patients,” said Daw Aye Aye Mon. “And I can do the vaccinations to prevent diseases and illnesses.”
Preventing water-borne disease
Water and sanitation, as well as environmental education, are also crucial to avoiding outbreaks of disease.
“The threat of water-borne diseases will remain a major challenge for the coming months if we continue to lack access to sanitation,” notes Khin San Oo, a midwife at the Bogalay township hospital.
Since the cyclone, she and her colleagues have been working around the clock treating injuries. The hospital quickly ran out of supplies, but with the help of UNICEF and other organizations – as well as private donors – it has been able to give all the care its patients need.
“Thanks to UNICEF’s quick response, we could prevent any major outbreaks after the disaster,” says health worker U Min Lwin.
Services delivered by midwives
“Midwives play a much bigger and wider role than midwives in industrialized countries,” says UNICEF Myanmar’s Health and Nutrition Chief, Dr. Osamu Kunii.
“Not only do they conduct pre-natal care and are in charge of deliveries, but they also perform a variety of other health-related services, such as giving immunizations, taking care of emergency cases, treating common diseases for the whole family, providing micronutrient and food supplements and promoting hygiene and sanitation.
“Without midwives, we would have difficulties in reaching as many people as we do in the rural areas,” Dr. Kunii adds.
Midwife Khin Win Myrnt has travelled two hours by boat from Myin Ka Kone village to get much-needed medical supplies from UNICEF in Bogalay. She is picking up three large boxes filled with the equipment and medication from the UNICEF warehouse.
Khin Win Myrnt is in charge of 17 villages, which have a combined population of more than 17,000 people.
“After the cyclone, I have been treating everybody for free,” she says. “Because a village and the midwife – that’s like family.”