Pregnant and displaced in north-east Nigeria

After fleeing violence in their hometowns, women face giving birth in dangerous, overcrowded camps.

By Kusali Kubwalo
A baby is weighed at a health centre, Nigeria
17 October 2018

BORNO, Nigeria, 17 October 2018 – Hauwa Bukhar and her newborn daughter, Aishat, sit quietly in a row of chairs at a health clinic in the Muna Garage displacement camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria. She is among a group of women waiting their turn to be seen. Many of them share the experience of being mothers, and all have endured the hardship of being forced to flee their homes.

The Muna Garage camp is home to over 35,000 residents. They are among at least 1.76 million people who have been displaced by the ongoing conflict in north-east Nigeria – their villages ransacked, their property lost and their lives changed forever. The majority of people who have been displaced are living in Borno State, the epicentre of the crisis, which is where Muna Garage camp is located.

Hauwa and her family were displaced a year ago, after an armed group raided their village, taking with them cattle and villagers, mostly young women. Hauwa managed to escape, but lost everything, including four of her children after they got separated. After four long months, she was finally reunited with her children and husband and they settled in Muna Garage Camp.

“That was the worst four months of my life, I did not know whether my children had been abducted or had been killed,” she says through tears.

A midwife hands a newborn to her mother, Nigeria
Aisha Mustafa, a health officer, returns Aishat to Hausa at a UNICEF-supported health clinic in the Muna Garage displacement camp, Maiduguri, Borno State, north-east Nigeria.

Giving birth in crowded camps

Life in the overcrowded camp is hard, but it is especially difficult for pregnant women.

“It is not easy for these women but we give them the best we can. Pregnant women need space, comfort and a peace of mind, but the women in the camp have none of that. It is even worse for them when they have to deliver at night,” says Aisha Mustapha Kolo, a midwife at one of the clinics.

That was the worst four months of my life, I did not know whether my children had been abducted or had been killed.

At night, there are no health services available in the camp because it is too dangerous for health workers to travel after dark. Women who go into labour at night must therefore give birth at home. Others decide to give birth at home due to traditional beliefs. But for most people in the camp, home is just one grass hut with shared toilets. This means that many pregnant women are forced to deliver their babies in a communal bathroom.

Aisha has worked at the clinic for over a year, and says there were 600 births in the camp and 10 under-five deaths in 2017. Although there were no recorded newborn deaths in 2017, most mothers whose babies die at home soon after birth rarely report the cases to the health facility.

A midwife weights a newborn at a health centre, Nigeria
Aisha weighs Hausa's newborn baby during a check-up at the health centre. "She is in perfect health," says Aisha.

A happy ending

Today, Aisha is checking up on Hauwa’s newborn baby, who is “in perfect health”, according to the midwife.

“This is my sixth baby. But this pregnancy was the hardest, I was not sure my baby was going to make it,” says Hauwa. “I was lucky, my baby was ready to come during the day and I delivered here at the clinic.”

Hauwa’s story is one of the few with a happy ending. So many others have sad stories to tell.

UNICEF is supporting the government of Borno State by providing primary health care services in the two clinics located in Muna Garage Camp, and in about 50 other camps in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – the states most affected by violence. This support includes training for health workers; providing emergency medicines, supplies and equipment; and paying monthly stipends for volunteers working in camps and in newly liberated areas. It also includes treating common diseases, immunization services, antenatal care, delivery, post-natal care, vitamin A supplements, distributing deworming tablets, hygiene promotion, community mobilization, referral services including maintenance of ambulances.

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