By Alistair Gretarsson
THATTA, Pakistan, 19 October 2010 – When the floods hit the town of Belosheher in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh last August, Haleema Gafoor, 20, was in the final weeks of her pregnancy. With waters quickly submerging their home, she and her family had no choice but to flee.
|VIDEEO: UNICEF reports on the long-term, sustainable solutions to improve the health and well-being of women and children in Pakistan in the wake of the floods. Watch in RealPlayer|
“When the flood waters came and we left our home, I was so pregnant and in so much pain that I was sure that I would die on the road,” said Ms. Gafoor.
Ms. Gafoor and her husband finally managed to get space on a bus coming to the district’s main town of Thatta. When they arrived, a local landlord allowed them to camp on his land in a vacant lot between a few houses in the centre of town.
Across Pakistan, the flood waters are now finally receding and people are returning home, often to heavily damaged or destroyed houses and devastated livelihoods. Many have been surviving in hastily built camps for weeks on end and, in some cases, for months. The long journey of rebuilding lives has just begun for most and the needs are still immense.
In conditions like these, pregnant women are particularly at risk.
The Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) programme is a government-run programme, supported by UNICEF, which provides essential care to women during pregnancy and birth and to both mother and child in the first weeks of life. Here in Thatta, three tented MNCH centres have been set up to provide these essential services to those who have fled the flooding and are living in the surrounding camps.
|'Lady Health Worker' Asma Farooq gives ante-natal check-ups to a group of women in Thatta, in Pakistan's Sindh province.|
Many women, however, are either unaware of these services or are unable to make the journey to the tented MNCH centres. To extend the reach of these services and to ensure that all pregnant get the care they need, UNICEF is supporting mobile outreach teams.
Each team includes one doctor, a lady health worker and a community midwife. They seek out women who are pregnant or have recently given birth and provide them with essential ante-natal, peri-natal and neo-natal care. When necessary, the team refers the patient to the nearest hospital, but distances are long and sometimes there simply isn’t enough time for referral.
Birth in a tent
It was one of these teams that met Ms. Gafoor during one of their routine rounds of the camps. During an ante-natal check-up, the team, led by Dr. Rehana Rafique Memon, advised Ms. Gafoor to alert them when she was going into labour.
Yet when the day came and Ms. Gafoor called the MNCH team for help, she was already very close to giving birth. She was rushed to the tent where, within half an hour and on a simple rope bed, she gave birth to a baby girl. She named her daughter Lalee, after her grandmother.
The challenges to delivering essential services to those affected by the flooding will continue to grow in the coming months as more people return home, causing a geographical spread of those in need. The Government of Pakistan, UNICEF and the humanitarian community are rapidly scaling up early recovery efforts across the country to respond to the changing nature of this emergency.
Meanwhile, UNICEF is working to build services to reach even more people than before the floods with life-saving health, nutrition, sanitation and education services. UNICEF works on long-term, sustainable solutions to improve the health and well-being of Pakistan’s women and children now and into the future.
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