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Maternal health care for flood-hit women

ISLAMABAD: The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is providing comprehensive reproductive health care services even one year after the devastating flood that hit the vast areas of the country as part of its humanitarian response.

According to a press release issued here on Sunday, the fund`s immediate response after the flood was to support basic reproductive health services for the displaced. Now, during the recovery phase, the fund is focusing on upgrading health facilities to provide comprehensive emergency obstetric care to the women.

The flood brought to the forefront the women living in rural and underprivileged areas of Pakistan as some of them had never been to a doctor before. Current maternal mortality figures show that one out of 89 Pakistani women dies of maternal causes whereas complications of childbirth still account for one-fifth of the deaths among the women of the childbearing age.

An estimated 500,000 pregnant women were among the 20 million people affected by the last year`s flood. Their vulnerability was further exacerbated by malnutrition, trauma and fatigue due to long journeys to safer areas or to the camps and by subsequent poor hygiene.

Given the immense needs, UNFPA in collaboration with the government and civil society partners started to deliver urgently needed maternal health services through mobile service units as part of an outreach programme for areas that had no functional health facilities.

Damaged health facilities were refurbished and female health care providers were recruited to restart basic services. The fund, among other things, provided personal hygiene, newborn and clean delivery kits to tens of thousands of women. Reproductive health equipment and supplies sufficient to cover an estimated population of 6 million were distributed within the past year, making this one of UNFPA`s biggest humanitarian operations globally.

Today, the emphasis is on helping flood-affected people rebuild their lives. “Majority of people has gone back but some are still here and are in need of services. Those who have gone back are more aware of their health needs.” says Ceemab, a community health worker from Khairpur, Sindh. “Women who come to see us are much scared that there will be another flood this year and they will again lose the little they have managed to build back in a year,” she adds.

“The buying capacity of the flood-affected people who have returned to their areas has decreased significantly,” says Dr Jameel Chaudhry, UNFPA Provincial Coordination Officer in the Punjab. “There is a need to provide them with the services at minimal or free of cost as the people, who have returned to their homes, cannot afford to the bear the out-of-pocket health expenses.”

The fund is now working to provide, where possible, free reproductive health services in government-owned health facilities. The focus is to strengthen quality and improve the accessibility of the services. However, sustainability of services remains the biggest challenge as it requires support and commitment from the government at district and provincial levels.

A programme aimed at protecting displaced women and girls from violence was also initiated last year. Coordination mechanisms, co-led by the Department of Social Welfare, were set up both at the federal and provincial levels. Referral systems were established for the survivors to receive medical, legal, and psycho-social support. Twelve women-friendly spaces were also set up to reach women in affected communities.

“UNFPA will continue to provide humanitarian assistance in reproductive health and gender-based violence programmes for flood-affected communities as well as for the conflict-hit internally displaced persons (IDPs),” Said Rabbi Royan, UNFPA Representative in Pakistan.

Source: Dawn