KARACHI: Noor Bano, 32, was anaemic and exhausted when her labour pains started last Sunday. Her flight from the flood had included a three-hour trek with two small children strapped to her. She also had to take shelter beneath a bridge for two days without food or water.
But Bano was lucky. She ended up in a camp in Sukkur visited regularly by a United Nations Population Fund-supported medical team. They gave Bano a prenatal exam and left her a phone number. Her mother-in-law called when the time came and a community midwife, Farzana Sarki, came quickly to help Noor deliver her sixth baby in the family’s tent.
But not everyone is so lucky.
Thousands of pregnant women uprooted by floods all over the country are at a heightened risk of death and disability, unless relief agencies step up their operations, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned on Tuesday.
UNFPA estimates that nearly 500,000 women of the 21 million flood-affected people in the country are pregnant. Soon, some 1700 women will go into labour on a daily basis, and more than 250 of them will experience complications requiring lifesaving medical intervention. The situation is all the more alarming given that most flood victims do not have access to proper health services including skilled delivery assistance.
For Farzani Sarki, the midwife who delivered Bano’s baby, it was the 18th delivery in two weeks. Since early in August, UNFPA has deployed obstetricians and midwives in 23 mobile teams and 14 health centres in various flood-affected areas.
These teams, according to UNFPA, have attended about 1500 births, treated 300 women after they suffered miscarriages, and referred nearly 200 mothers to hospitals for caesarean sections.
But this is not enough.
Shahnaz Seelro, Bano’s neighbour in the camp, gave birth to her child in the trailer of a truck hired to carry her family away from the flood. While she was lucky enough to escape unscathed, her life would have been at grave peril had something gone wrong.
UN estimates that 320 women die for every 100,000 live births in Pakistan, during normal circumstances. This number could rise sharply in the flood-affected areas as women are exposed to trauma, malnutrition and poor hygiene.
UNFPA is currently seeking $12.6 million for relief and early recovery activities in the next 12 months. International donors, however, have only pledged $3.5 million to date.
While UNFPA continues to support health authorities and non-governmental service providers in flood-hit areas, besides conducting various training courses for the people, there is much that still needs to be done. “We urgently need to scale up the reproductive health care for the flood victims,” said Dr Naseer Nizamani, UNFPA Assistant Representative in Pakistan. “The number of women who still lack assistance is enormous.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2010.