Help needed for 40,000 pregnant women after earthquake

Posted: 11 October 2005

As United Nations trucks carrying life-saving medicine and surgical supplies began to arrive in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the area worst hit by Saturday's devastating earthquake, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)issued an appeal today for $3.2 million to meet the urgent needs of an estimated 40,000 pregnant women.

Many hospitals in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and Northwest Frontier Province were completely destroyed or made unusable by the 7.6 magnitude earthquake, which has left hundreds of thousands homeless.

Four UNFPA trucks of medicine and supplies were sent almost immediately after the quake struck over the weekend. With the re-opening of the road to Muzzafarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, UNFPA has dispatched four additional trucks of supplies and mobilised medical staff in other districts to assist local officials.

According to UNFPA, at least 40,000 women in the affected areas are currently pregnant, and need adequate nutrition, medicines and antenatal care to deliver safely. Even in the best of circumstances, some 15 per cent of pregnant women also require emergency obstetric care to avoid maternal and infant deaths. The Fund is concerned that the physical and psychological trauma caused by Saturday's devastating quake could push this figure even higher.

The Fund is appealing for $2.2 million for immediate maternal health and emergency obstetric care needs, and $1 million for emergency hygiene supplies. Its partners include the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid reminded donors and humanitarian partners on Monday that the unique needs of women must be a part of both initial response and longer-term planning.

"Our experience in responding to the earthquake in Bam, Iran, and to the tsunami, has confirmed that needs relating to pregnancy and hygiene must be addressed from the outset," said Ms. Obaid.

"Maternal care, including emergency obstetric care, saves lives. Hygiene supplies - including soap, washcloths, and sanitary supplies - are important to help people who have lost everything to maintain their dignity, and to ensure that the mobility of women is not impeded at this critical time."