Help needed for pregnant women after Pakistan quake

Posted: 11 November 2005

Some 17,000 earthquake-affected women in Pakistan are expected to give birth in the next two months. An estimated 1,200 of them will face major complications and about 400 will require surgical assistance.

The United Ntions warned this week that the health and safety of these pregnant women and adolescent girls are in jeopardy due to the shock and trauma they suffered in the 8 October quake, the harsh living conditions they now face, and their very limited access to basic health services and emergency obstetric care.

They are among some 350,000 people, living in remote mountain regions, who will need help to stay alive this winter. More than half are expected to abandon their mountain dwellings for army camps lower down, where the BBC has reported outbreaks of cholera and diptheria.

Pregant women will be especially vulnerable, says the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). To help local authorities address this situation, the agency is providing delivery kits, caesarean section kits, emergency supplies and surgical equipment to health centres and referral facilities as part of the UN's coordinated response.

Mobile clinics

Nine UNFPA mobile clinics continue to offer medical assistance to affected communities in two hard-hit districts, Mansehra in North-West Frontier Province and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Over the past week, staff have treated well over 10,000 patients and performed more than 80 deliveries. One woman with labour complications was flown by helicopter along with a woman doctor to the hospital in Muzaffarabad, where she safely delivered a healthy baby boy.

UNFPA Representative in Pakistan Dr. France Donnay cautions, however, that additional funds will be required to adequately care for the thousands of women who will need medical assistance in the coming months. UNFPA has asked donors for $9 million to support reproductive health and $1 million for hygiene supplies, as part of the UN-led appeal for Pakistan.

It says there is there is an urgent need now to re-establish the health system and to train community health providers in basic maternal care. One major challenge is the shortage of female medical staff and community workers. UNFPA needs more funds to provide equipment and support training.

The Fund's Pakistan office has assembled 100,000 hygiene kits for women and adolescent girls - each including items for personal use such as a towel, shawl, soap, comb and cotton wool - to be distributed with the support of NGO partners.

UNFPA is sharing its electronic database of geographical information about Mansehra and Muzaffarabad districts with others. This provides detailed maps showing terrain, roads and population density, and has coordinates for all clinics and schools.

To find details of of how to make donations to Save the Children and Medicins Sans Frontieres, which are working in Pakistan to save lives, go to Guardian Unlimited at guardian.co.uk/pakistan.