Health services for mothers and pregnant women displaced by conflict in Pakistan
By Alistair Ingi Gretarsson and Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani
MARDAN, Pakistan, 8 June 2009 – “I have nothing for my unborn child. I had made so many clothes for my baby but I couldn’t bring them with me,” says Azra who is nine-months pregnant with her third child and has come for a pre-natal check-up at the UNICEF-supported Comprehensive Healthcare Unit in Sheikh Yasin Camp in Mardan.
Azra and her husband Farooq arrived at the camp with their two young children almost three weeks ago, to escape fighting in their home city of Mingora, in the Swat Valley. They are among more than ten thousand displaced people now living in the Sheikh Yasin camp.
Azra is so thin that it is difficult to tell that she is in the final stages of her pregnancy. The fatigue and emotional trauma are clearly visible in her face.
“We are not rich but we had a comfortable life in Swat. My children miss their home and they cry all the time,” Azra says. Her biggest worry now is whether she will be able to give birth to her next child safely.
The Comprehensive Healthcare Unit at Sheikh Yasin Camp is one of four such health centres set up with UNICEF support to help displaced people living in camps.
Pregnant women, mothers of newborn children and their newborns receive special attention here and receive lifesaving antenatal and postnatal care. About 1,100 women are being cared in the four health centres.
There are around 400 pregnant women in this camp alone, according to Medical Officer at the Comprehensive Healthcare Unit, Neelum Jehangir.
“Most of these women are traumatised and arrive at the camp in a very bad state. They are often in need of urgent medical attention,” says Dr. Jehangir.
At the Healthcare Unit, pregnant women are given regular checkups and receive essential vaccinations. To ensure that these women receive continuous care during childbirth, UNICEF helps to transport them to the hospital and provides food and medical care.
“We ensure that they deliver their babies safely,” says Dr. Jehangir. “If we do not provide these services, a large number of mothers can die and children can die."
Mehr-un-Nisa is in her ninth month of pregnancy Although she had previously given birth to four children, she had never been for a thorough prenatal examination before she came to the camp. She looks too young to have given birth to five children but like many rural women in Pakistan, she is not sure how old she is.
“My four elder children were born at home and their deliveries were very difficult. This time my baby was born in the hospital and it was much easier,” Mehr-un-Nisa says.
An acute and urgent need
The majority of the people displaced by the current conflict in northern Pakistan are women and children. UNICEF works to ensure that their right to life-saving health services is met, that they have adequate water and hygiene facilities, that children are protected from violence, abuse and exploitation, and that their education is not disrupted.
However, there is now an urgent need to expand essential, life-saving services, not only to those women and children who are living in camps, but also to those living in increasingly over-burdened host communities. For this, a swift and substantial increase in funding is required.
Presently, less than a quarter of the funds UNICEF estimates it will need to carry out an effective response to the crisis till the end of 2009 have been received.
With $12.8 million received against $53.3 million needed, UNICEF requires an additional $40.5 million to help provide the most urgently needed assistance in health and nutrition services, education and child protection.