UN helps pregnant women in Iraq

Posted: 12 June 2003

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has begun its promised effort to deliver equipment and supplies in Iraq in an effortt to improve the care of pregnant women.

A new shipment of emergency reproductive health supplies, intended to meet the urgent needs of Iraqi women, arrived in Baghdad on 9 June. The supplies, provided by UNFPA, arrived in a UNICEF/UNFPA convoy from Iran.

The shipment, facilitated by the Iranian Ministry of Health and Medical Education, included much needed emergency obstetric care materials, clean delivery equipment, contraceptives, syringes, essential drugs and other medical products. Gynaecological beds, wheel chairs, sanitary pads, baby diapers, clothing, and more drugs will be included in another convoy to be dispatched shortly by the UNFPA office in Iran.

The shipment - and subsequent UNFPA medical supplies delivered into Baghdad - will be distributed to health centres based on the results of an assessment of the need following the war. This is due to be completed at the end of June. This is the second shipment of reproductive health equipment and supplies provided by UNFPA to Iraqi hospitals since the end of the conflict in April. The first was delivered almost in May 2003, to the northern city of Mosul.

Infants dying

Maternal and infant mortality rates have risen greatly in Iraq in recent years. In the late 1980s, 117 mothers died per 100,000 live births, but now the rate is more than three times as high - 370 deaths per 100,000.

Mortality rates for infants and young children have also increased dramatically, and are now only exceeded by those in Sierra Leone. With the war in Iraq, these figures were bound to get worse, UNFPA had warned in April.

According to news reports, miscarriages, premature deliveries and Caesarean sections rose sharply after the start of the conflict. Over a decade of war and international sanctions have severely damaged the Iraqi health care system, while increasing poverty and poor nutrition have gravely undermined women's health. Maternal mortality has more than tripled.

SOURCE: UNFPA and agencies, 11 June 2003.