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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
Dec 16, 2011

Join Diane Sawyer Tonight on 20/20 at 10 PM ET!

ABC News closes out its Year-Long Global Health Series by Examining the Most Dangerous Thing a Woman Can Do: Why So Many Women Are Dying During Pregnancy and Childbirth

Please tune into ABC’s 20/20 with Diane Sawyer tonight, Friday December 16th at 10PM ET, as she addresses why so many women are—1,000 every day – are dying during pregnancy and childbirth.

This 20/20 special will wrap up a year’s worth of ABC programming – and giving – to address global health issues.  The segment will provide a look at the challenges faced by mothers in developing countries, as well as the low-cost, low-tech solutions, including UNFPA’s Clean Birthing Kits which your contributions have helped sustain over the last year, to ensure the health and dignity of women and their newborns.

For as little as $11 you can help UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund get 3 emergency clean birthing kits, including a bar of soap, clear plastic sheet, razor blade, an umbilical cord tie, cloth and latex gloves into the hands of pregnant mothers and health care workers as they deliver safe babies in crisis situations.

Thank you for spreading the word about tonight’s special feature and for your support of UNFPA’s life saving work in 2011.  This holiday season, we hope that you and your friend will consider giving the gift of safe motherhood through UNFPA.

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