Shabana’s baby didn’t have to die

Published: September 3, 2010
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A child displaced by the floods cries at a relief camp. PHOTO: AFP

Shabana, a resident of Jampur gave birth to baby boy on a charpoy kept beside the road, aided only by her mother-in-law. The women had no medicines and the environment was far from sterile. The new born only survived a few hours and now Shabana’s health is deteriorating every day. Despite the challenges her family stubbornly refuses to move to a camp simply because they don’t want to move any further away from the ruins of what was once their home.

Unfortunately, the plight of expectant mothers in the flood zone has not been discussed enough. According to the World Health Organization an approximate 400,000 births are expected take place in the affected areas within a year – every month nearly 35,000 mothers will give birth to babies in extremely unfortunate conditions.

Even though medical camps have been set up adjacent to various relief camps, nobody can provide the required facilities to these mothers. Food insecurity leading to severe malnutrition, extreme stress plus a total lack of hygiene in the affected areas has put women at high risk. Doctors working in the field are predicting miscarriages and pre-mature births.

Complicating the situation are our cultural norms which do not allow the majority of these women to be treated by men. The scale of the disaster has left the administration starved for human resources and it has not been possible to send trained female gynecologists to most of the affected areas.

As a result, the deliveries are mostly being handled by elderly or ‘more experienced’ relatives or neighbors.

The women in camps do have access to medicines and sometimes even medical expertise, but the overall condition of these camps makes childbirth an even more excruciating process. All these factors have led, WHO to conclude that within next 6 months, 40,000 new born deaths are probable. A group of various organizations operating with the Health Ministry has sent over 6,000 lady health workers and community midwives with safe delivery kits to camps. However, with more than 12 million women across KP to Balochistan, reaching all expectant mothers remains an elusive dream.

During the IDP crisis following the military operation in Malakand, the first few births in the camps were hailed as ‘hopeful new beginnings’ by both the media and the parents. We saw the parents actually giving a nod to the uncertain situations by naming their babies ‘Mardan Khan’ after the name of the relief camps they were born at. But this time round, no one seems to have the heart to celebrate the beginning of new lives.

Births in these uncertain circumstances do not just endanger the mother and child physically, but also pose grave threats to their psychological health. With literally nothing to go back to, the mental state of these new mothers can be well imagined. Postmortem depression in new mothers is rarely treated in normal conditions and in these circumstances, any psychological help can be ruled out.

Mother and child health has usually been an ignored in our health policy, but if the ministry of health doesn’t step up and take emergency measures to ensure health and nutrition facilities to pregnant mothers in the calamity hit areas, the future of nearly half a million children will be endangered.

sadaf.khan

Sadaf Khan

A broadcast journalist based in Islamabad who was formerly associated with Geo News and Dunya News. She blogs at ibteda.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.