MACCHA, Lebanon— Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria last year, nearly 80,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Given that the vast majority of refugees are women and children, providing reproductive health care for people affected by the crisis in Syria has been UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund’s, top priority.
Women fleeing the war often have no choice but to give birth on the run or in unsanitary settings.
“A 20-year-old gave birth alone in a kitchen and cut the newborn’s umbilical cord with a string used for sewing chicken,” recalls Zeina, one of two nurses running the only medical center for Syrian refugees in the village of Maccha in northern Lebanon. “When she came to us, the baby was crying and had a severe infection. The odor was unbearable.”
Health care is affected by the conflict
Obstetricians and midwives know that childbirth is the most vulnerable time of a woman’s life, and it is impossible to predict for certain when life-threatening complications will arise. Sourraya, a 22-year-old refugee and mother of five children, admits that even though she would have liked to seek medical care during her pregnancies, “there is a shortage of medical services available in Syria.”
With the protracted conflict, medical services in Hosn and other remote towns of Syria are more limited than ever. “With the war, the only gynecologist in Hosn packed her things and fled,” says Sourraya. “Her husband is the village pharmacist. He also closed down.”
Taboos and misconceptions complicate health care
In her many years working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Zeina said the discussion of sexual and reproductive health is often taboo. “A 17-year-old girl who was engaged to her cousin came to us, she had not had her period in the last year, “mentioned Zeina. “ She did not think of seeking medical attention. It is only when she consulted a generalist for a pain in her ear that she made allusion to it. It turned out she had an ovarian cyst.”
Misconceptions about family planning options are also widespread. Many women refuse contraceptive injections because they believe it causes sterility. Men often refuse to take responsibility for contraception. “It doesn’t work that way,” says Sourraya.
UNFPA’s assistance in Syria
UNFPA has come to action by helping distribute reproductive health kits and supplies to health centers in North Lebanon where many affected Syrian women and their families have sought refuge.
UNFPA is also organizing trainings to ensure that health workers can help prevent and manage the consequences of sexual violence, HIV transmission, and prevent neonatal and maternal morbidity.
Women and girls have also been given ‘dignity kits’ with personal items including sanitary supplies and to ensure women are provided with the antenatal and postnatal care they need, UNFPA has equipped and supplied clinics with gynecological beds, clean delivery kits for emergency deliveries, and contraceptives.
With your support, UNFPA can continue aiding Syrian women and girls during this crisis as the organization works to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is sage and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
Please consider making a contribution today, and help us raise awareness and funding by sharing the following report with people you know who believe that all women and girls must have the right to a life of health and equal opportunity.
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