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Oct 15, 2012

Pregnant Congolese Refugees Face Enormous Risks when Delivering

Furaha's little baby boy, delivered safely on 9/20

RWAMWANJA REFUGEE CAMP, Uganda -- For far too long, fighting between the government and rebels in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been an unfortunate way of life for the innocent people who live there. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund’s country office in Uganda has responded quickly to this crisis by working with partners on the ground to provide appropriate health care and support to survivors of sexual violence and pregnant women fleeing the crisis.

Women and children account for around 80 percent of internally displaced persons and refugees worldwide. Moreover, in disaster settings, about 1 in 5 women are pregnant, and mothers and babies are generally exposed to trauma, malnutrition, disease and violence.

Global Giving is matching donations on Wednesday, October 17th, with $50,000 available in matching funds – please donate $11 or more to help ensure women in crisis areas have clean, healthy and safe deliveries. Here are the stories of two pregnant Congolese refugees who recently ended up at this Ugandan camp and delivered their babies safely with help from the UNFPA and its partners.

Twenty-one-year-old Tumayine Alphonsine gave birth to her first baby, a girl, on Sept. 20, 2012. While she lived in Congo, Tumayine worked as an assistant pharmacist, while her husband, Gabriel, was a medical doctor. He stood by his wife throughout the childbirth ordeal, until she delivered safely after having C-section.

But it wasn’t a procedure that took place near their home or even in their country. Because of the ongoing conflict, Tumayine and her husband lost all their property and had to travel to this refugee camp in Uganda for safety. Her pregnancy was soon complicated by severe bleeding, and she was rushed to the Rwamwanja Health Center at the camp. The center took her by ambulance to a referral hospital in the Kabarole district, about 50 miles, away. That was where Tumayine gave birth to her little girl, weighing about six pounds.

Dr. Samuel Onyait, who assisted the delivery, said that because of the delay in getting Tumayine to the hospital, the umbilical cord had gotten entangled around the baby, so he had no other choice but to do a C-section.  

On the same day, Furaha Jannete, a 30-year-old Congolese mother of six, gave birth to a healthy boy, who also weighed about six pounds, on her way to the Rwamwanja camp. Her story was as harrowing as Tumayine’s, but her husband was not by her side. While heading to Uganda with their five children, two children disappeared, so her husband had to go back and look for them as Furaha, pregnant, proceeded with the other children. But before she reached the camp, she gave birth, suffering serious bleeding. She is now recovering at the UNFPA supported Rwamwanja health center, receiving treatment. She was also informed by the International Red Cross that her children had been found by her husband and that they would soon arrive.

These two Congolese women who delivered their babies in difficult circumstances received the care they needed, thanks to UNFPA. But basic supplies are not always available at health facilities in Congolese refugee camps. Pregnant women must often buy their own materials for their deliveries, but most cannot afford to do so.  Providing a clean delivery kit can increase their chances of survival and decrease maternal deaths. Please contribute your $11 or more towards safe deliveries today, Global Giving will match up to $50,000 in donations made on Wednesday, October 17th – increasing the impact of your gift!  

Through UNFPA and nongovernmental groups in the region, these emergency birthing kits are distributed to mothers, midwives and nurses at the camps. The kits consist of not only a bar of soap but also a clear plastic sheet, a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord and performing episiotomies, an umbilical cord tie, cloth and latex gloves.  

Thanks to your donation to UNFPA through Global Giving, health facilities in the Rwamwanja refugee camp and other sites can make safe births possible for Congolese women. For a mere $11, your donation will enable three delivery kits to be sent to the places where they are desperately needed.

Please consider making an additional contribution today as well – $25 provides a woman with hygiene essentials for six months, enabling her to maintain her dignity in disaster or emergency situations. Your gift will go a long way in ensuring that women who give life, do not have to risk their own.

Furaha Jannette rests after delivering safely
Furaha Jannette rests after delivering safely
Tumayine's precious baby girl born on 9/20
Tumayine's new family -- healthy and safe.


Jul 11, 2012

Scaling Up the Humanitarian Response for Syrian Refugees

Syrian refugees receiving supplies in Lebanon
Syrian refugees receiving supplies in Lebanon

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.

Distributing reproductive health kits in Lebanon
Distributing reproductive health kits in Lebanon
Mar 27, 2012

Providing Maternal Health After Phillipine Floods

Obstetricians providing help to pregnant women
Obstetricians providing help to pregnant women

NORTHERN MINDANAO, Philippines -- In the midst of the severe flooding brought on by tropical storm Washi, Analiza Tumanda was resigned to the idea of giving birth on the rooftop of a neighbor’s house. But as raging floodwaters started sweeping away houses along the banks of Cagayan River, Analiza, her husband and their three children (ages 8, 6 and 3) were forced to flee, moving from one rooftop to another along with neighbors.

Although she was in her ninth month of pregnancy, she hadn’t expected to deliver any day soon. But the fear, anxiety and physical stress exacted their toll, and her labor pains started.

“It was already past midnight and I really thought I would deliver right then and there,” the 30-year-old mother recalled. “My neighbors were also running for their lives and trying to get help. But when they realized my condition, they prioritized getting help for me.”

Several minutes later, policemen arrived onboard a pump boat, and they rushed her to the nearest village health station that was still safe from the rising water. Soon after, she delivered a healthy baby girl, who was later nicknamed Sendang, the female version of the storm’s local name Sendong.

More than 4,000 pregnant and lactating women assisted

Analiza is one of the more than 4,000 pregnant and lactating women reached so far by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, in its relief efforts to assist storm survivors in Northern Mindanao and Eastern Visayas regions in southern Philippines. The UN estimates some 10,000 pregnant and lactating women and around 20,000 young people aged 10 to 25 have been affected by the floods in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan and in the provinces of Bukidnon, Lanao del Sur and Negros Oriental. In total, about 135,000 families or 650,000 individuals were affected by the disaster, with 553,000 people left homeless. Some 4,600 families or 23,000 people remain in evacuation or relocation sites, with the rest seeking shelter outside the camps.

Distributing supplies to meet specific needs

The UNFPA assistance includes distribution of dignity kits to all pregnant and lactating women, clean delivery kits to women in their third trimester of pregnancy, and special medical missions designed to reach pregnant and lactating women and their infants.

The dignity kits, containing 18 items for basic sanitary supplies such as soap, a bath towel, toilet paper, sanitary pads, and other items, are distributed to protect the women and their babies from disease and infection. They are packed in acovered plastic bucket that can later be used to store clean water. Blankets and additional underwear are also provided.

UNFPA has also designed a personal hygiene kit for young people, with contents, such as combs, toothpaste and deodorant, that were requested by the young people themselves.

The clean delivery kits, meanwhile, are intended for use in case of an emergency childbirth outside a birthing facility. These are given only to pregnant women who are in their final three months of pregnancy.

Miraflor Cainoy, 31, one of the recipients of the clean delivery kits during the early phase of the humanitarian response, is now sheltered at the Calaanan Tent City. She had given birth on January 11 and happily narrated that she did not forget to bring with her the clean delivery kit she received from UNFPA when her husband took her to a birthing centre.

“Having the kit with me somehow gave me a sense of security that my baby and I will be okay. The kit was used by the doctor and midwife who assisted me during my delivery,” said the new mother of a baby girl, the third child in the family.

Medical missions to support reproductive health

Beyond the distribution of the kits, UNFPA continues to conduct medical missions in evacuation centres and relocation sites for flood survivors. So far 23 medical missions have been conducted in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and in the municipality of Bubong in Lanao del Sur.

As part of the medical missions, a series of health information sessions are also conducted, focusing on specific topics such as safe motherhood, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, family planning, prevention of violence against women and life skills for young people – all in the context of a humanitarian situation.

When the medical mission reached the evacuation centre where Analiza and her family are temporarily sheltered, she expressed relief as she said they haven’t been seen by a doctor since she gave birth.

“Except for minor ailments such as colds, my baby is fine but I still want her to get checked. I am also worried about getting pregnant again because of our current condition so I want to avail of family planning services also,” she said after attending the health information session.

To view a video documenting UNFPA's response to the Philippine flooding, please click here.

Miraflor Cainoy holding her baby.
Miraflor Cainoy holding her baby.
Medical mission performed on a mother affected by
Medical mission performed on a mother affected by
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