News

Strength and leadership: protecting pregnant women in a humanitarian crisis

19 August 2019
Dr. Elizabeth Samama supports 30-year old, Suraida Taguy access life-saving sexual and reproductive health services as an ongoing conflict in Maguindanao displaced her and her family. © UNFPA Philippines/ Kim Ian Tiu

Maguindanao, Philippines – 30-year-old, Suraida Tugay was nine months pregnant as an ongoing conflict in Maguindanao displaced her and her family.

She was staying in an evacuation center in July and was rushed to a health facility where she safely gave birth to her sixth child.

“Armed conflict is a part of our lives,” Ms. Taguy told UNFPA.

The conflict has affected over 20,000 families from the four provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Basilan, according to the 25 July 2019 information from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) Ministry of Social Services.

Despite the hardship, she knows things could have been much worse. She previously lost two children during childbirth. Today, she and her newborn baby are healthy.

Many more women are affected. UNFPA estimates that there could be as many as 1,800 pregnant women among the affected population, with around 600 expected to deliver in the next three months. More than 1,100 women are thought to have given birth in the last six months.

“We’re working to ensure pregnant and lactating women have proper hygiene and nutrition as well as access to life-saving reproductive health services such as emergency obstetric care and skilled birth attendance,” said Dr. Elizabeth Samama, who is leading these efforts as OIC Provincial Health Officer II at the Maguindanao Integrated Provincial Health Office.

Herself from Maguindanao, she has worked in public health for over 30 years. “It’s really an ordeal what pregnant and lactating women go through in these emergencies. As the displacement continues, they face life-threatening complications. Keeping them safe is what I care about,” she said.

Working together

In partnership with the BARMM Ministry of Health and with assistance from the Australian Government, UNFPA Philippines provided “Clean Delivery Kits” that contain sterile supplies such as razors, plastic sheeting, gloves and other essential items to facilitate safe births; and “dignity kits” that contain hygiene materials such as sanitary napkins, underwear, soap and shampoo.


“We’re working to ensure pregnant and lactating women have proper
hygiene and nutrition as well as access to life-saving reproductive health
services such as emergency obstetric care and skilled birth attendance,”
said Dr. Elizabeth Samama. © UNFPA Philippines/ Kim Ian Tiu

“These clean delivery kits have been a great help in decreasing incidences of infection during deliveries to mothers and their babies,” said Dr. Samama.

Ms. Taguy is just one of the women in the evacuation center to receive these supplies prior to her safe delivery. “We needed it badly and it has been a great help for me and my baby,” said Ms. Taguy.

In addition, UNFPA and Australia provided medical equipment including resuscitators, forceps, and stethoscopes to enable midwives, nurses and doctors to further provide safe deliveries.

“These supplies and equipment have helped reduce maternal deaths and morbidities. We’ve already seen decreasing incidences of tetanus neonatorum and sepsis,” said Dr. Samama.

Preparedness

“We are aiming for zero maternal deaths in the years to come,” said Dr. Samama.

However, to achieve this, the community and partners need to focus not just on humanitarian response but also on preparedness including pre-positioning life-saving supplies as part of disaster risk reduction efforts, as well as resilience building, and health system strengthening. These efforts save lives in emergencies.                                  

Development needs are intertwined with the peacebuilding and humanitarian needs of the region, and UNFPA’s support focuses on addressing these three.

In partnership with the BARMM ministries, UNFPA supports the institutionalization of Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) in emergencies — a series of life-saving actions required to uphold the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girls including protection from and response to gender-based violence in crisis situations.

Fulfilling the ICPD

“I’m so happy for these supplies,” Ms. Tugay told UNFPA.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo where 179 governments agreed on a call for all people to have access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including voluntary family planning, and safe pregnancy and childbirth services.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the ICPD, the Government of Kenya and UNFPA will be convening the Nairobi Summit (12-14 November), a high-level conference with the theme “Accelerating the Promise” to advance the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action. The conference will offer an inclusive platform, bringing together governments, UN agencies, civil society, private sector organizations, women’s groups and youth networks.

Addressing the unique needs of women and girls by ensuring their sexual and reproductive health and rights in emergencies, along with their protection from violence and harmful practices, plays an important role in fulfilling the ICPD’s call to action.

– Mario Villamor