3 February 2010 The United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) is providing medical kits to thousands of expectant mothers in Haiti in case they cannot get medical attention in time and give birth at home or on the streets where they are living after last month’s earthquake.
A “clean delivery packet” for a pregnant woman comprises a clean piece of plastic sheet, a razor blade and string to cut and tie the umbilical cord, soap, a diaper cloth to dry the baby and gloves.
UNFPA estimates that 15 percent of the 63,000 pregnant women in the earthquake-affected areas are likely to have potentially life-threatening complications. The estimated 7,000 who will give birth this month are at an even greater risk, with at least 1,000 predicted miscarriages.
“People are delivering in the streets. There is not a lot of access to medical care for pregnant women,” Wilma Doedens, technical adviser on reproductive health at UNFPA, told the UN News Centre. “Most medical facilities are focused on those seriously injured during the earthquake. We are hearing more and more about women delivering at home. We want to make sure that they the have the basic equipment they need.”
More advanced kits containing emergency Caesarean section equipment such as intravenous fluid and drugs to stop bleeding have been distributed to birthing tents at field hospitals.
Clinics with midwives also receive instruments and medicines to stabilize a birthing woman before referring her to a hospital.
“We have 173 kits at more than 80 centres in Port-au-Prince reaching more than 1.5 million people,” Ramiz Alakbarov, UNFPA Representative for Haiti, told the UN News Centre.
Before the quake, Haiti had the highest rates of infant (under-five) and maternal mortality rate in the western hemisphere at 670 deaths for every 100,000 pregnancies.
“Thank God we have this international aid to help us with this birth. For the moment at least, we are still alive, but who knows about tomorrow,” Sejouste Walkin, an expectant father, told UNIFEED in his native Creole at a makeshift clinic in Port-au-Prince.
In addition to emergency care, UNFPA has distributed some 20,000 dignity kits. The kits contain sanitary napkins, underwear, anti-bacterial soap and other hygiene and cleaning supplies for women and young children.
UNFPA is also passing out condoms and medicine for high blood pressure common in Haiti. There are also kits for post-rape care and treatment of complications from unsafe abortions.
“Post-rape care is a problem. Not many clinics can provide that care. Before the earthquake, there were about five cases a week at GHESKIO. I don’t have information if that number has gone up or down, but people have a harder time accessing the clinic,” said Ms. Doedens.
GHESKIO (Group for the Study of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections) is known in Haiti for providing treatment and medical care for people with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The building is situated in Port-au-Prince near the national penitentiary, from which thousands of convicts escaped during the earthquake.
Another challenge continues to be reaching outlaying areas of Haiti, which are left without access to medical support and supplies.
In Jimani, a border town into the Dominican Republic where more and more people are arriving from Port-au-Prince, UNFPA provided four truckloads of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and equipment this week.
“We are going to Jacmel tomorrow. There are centres there still under-serviced,” Ms. Doedens said, adding that the UNFPA has been working well with the Haitian Ministry of Health and other partners. “The Bureau of Family Health is a very dynamic bureau. They are sharing all the national protocols and assessing institutions outside of Port-au-Prince.”
“The condition in Haiti was not good before. The rain season will start soon and we have to make sure that we are increasing capacities locally. That is the challenge. The important thing is to maintain the gravity of operations in Haiti. Needs have to be identified with the Haitians, and the Haitian community has to be actively involved in the planning and carrying out activities,” said Mr. Alakbarov.
UNFPA has been involving local partners to spread the word of where and how to pick up the medical kits, and which clinics can be accessed by women in labour.
In addition, the supplies used for the kits – such as sanitary napkins or gauze – are bought in Haiti whenever possible to boost the local economy, and assembled by local women’s groups.
“The situation is improving very slowly. Some signs of life are coming back. Every place you go, people are trying to clean. I think the major challenge for the United Nations and for the international community is to support the local infrastructure,” said Mr. Alakbarov. “The response is more and more, with our assistance, in the hands of the Haitians.”
News Tracker: past stories on this issue