UN agency spotlights plight of pregnant women in Pakistani flood zone

Midwife Farzana Sarki delivered Noor Bano's baby in a tent at a camp for flood victims in Pakistan

7 September 2010 – The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned today that thousands of flood-affected pregnant women face the risk of death and disability unless relief efforts can be scaled up quickly to meet their needs.

Nearly 500,000 women in the flood-affected zone are pregnant, according to UNFPA estimates. Every day, some 1,700 go into labour and more than 250 experience complications that call for life-saving medical intervention.

Most of those made homeless by the floods still lack access to proper health services, including skilled delivery assistance, according to a press release issued today.

UNFPA cited the case of Noor Bano, 32, to illustrate the plight of pregnant women in Pakistan. She was anaemic and exhausted when her labour pains started on Sunday. Her flight from the flood had included a three-hour trek carrying two small children and two days sheltering beneath a bridge without food or water.

She ended up in a camp in Sukkur visited regularly by a UNFPA-supported medical team. The team gave Ms. Bano a prenatal exam and left a telephone number. Ms. Bano’s mother-in-law called, and community midwife Farzana Sarki came quickly to help Ms. Bano deliver her sixth baby in the family’s tent.

It was Ms. Sarki’s 18th delivery in two weeks. Since early August, UNFPA has deployed obstetricians and midwives in 23 mobile teams and 14 health centres in flood-affected areas. They have attended 1,500 births, treated 300 women after suffering miscarriages, and referred nearly 200 mothers to hospitals for delivery by caesarean section.

Shahnaz Seelro, Ms. Bano’s neighbour in the camp, gave birth before reaching the camp – in the trailer of a truck hired to carry her family away from the flood. With no skilled birth attendant, her life would have been at risk had anything gone wrong.

Maternal mortality is high in Pakistan in even normal times, according to UNFPA. Some 320 women die for every 100,000 live births, according to UN figures. Trauma, malnutrition and poor hygiene make flood survivors more vulnerable.

As part of the coordinated humanitarian response to Pakistan’s emergency, UNFPA is focusing on safe delivery and other reproductive health concerns. It is helping to assess needs for basic services as the floods continue to displace people, and for restoring damaged health centres and hospitals after waters recede.

“We urgently need to scale up reproductive health care to the flood victims,” said Naseer Nizamani, UNFPA’s deputy representative in Pakistan. “The number of women who still lack assistance is enormous.”

Besides supporting health authorities in flood-affected provinces, UNFPA is conducting reproductive health training and offering critical supplies to local groups providing health care.

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