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Oct 24, 2017

Providing Critical Care to Rohingya Women & Girls

UNFPA distributing dignity kits to women and girls
UNFPA distributing dignity kits to women and girls

900,000 Rohingya refugees have fled ethnic violence in Myanmar into neighboring Bangladesh. Of the 900,000 displaced, 600,000 have left since the end of August when the conflict seriously escalated. More than half of the refugees are women and girls, who have lost access to critical reproductive health care. Having already survived the violence in Myanmar, their arrival at camps in Bangladesh exposes them to an increased risk for the potential of sexual abuse and gender-based violence.  

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees urgently need shelter. However, those who do live in shelters often reckon with overcrowding and a lack of privacy. These issues are exacerbated for women and girls, who face the additional threat of violence when traveling within the camps to restrooms or elsewhere. Of 10,000 new arrivals in Cox’s Bazar, one of the largest camps in Bangladesh, 900 women and girls have reported gendered violence. It is likely many more have not reported their experiences for fear of stigma.

Women and girls are more vulnerable to sexual assault in times of crisis.

UNFPA has created nine women-friendly spaces in Cox’s Bazar that provide both protection and care specifically for women. Shakila* arrived in a UNFPA women-friendly space after surviving sexual assault and witnessing the murder of both her husband and baby daughter. She received urgent medical care from health personnel trained by UNFPA, and will be able to access counseling that UNFPA helps provide to survivors of trauma. Another woman who was receiving counseling there after she had suffered similar unimaginable horrors described the space as “a place to talk about my suffering on this journey – a place  of peace for women like us.”   

UNFPA also has 34 midwives stationed in Cox’s Bazar, many of whom are also trained in a clinical response to rape and gender-based violence.  UNFPA has already distributed over 6,000 dignity kits to women in Cox’s Bazar, which include items ranging from sanitary napkins to flashlights to light the way at night. When women arrive with virtually nothing, delivery kits provide a lifeline.  

A donation of only $25 can provide one woman in a humanitarian setting such as the Rohingya refugee crisis with a dignity kit that provides hygiene essentials for six months, ensuring that she is able to maintain her dignity, health, and security in emergency situations. 

UNFPA is also supporting health centers and mobile clinics in Bangladesh, and has provided health screenings for 60,000 new arrivals. In addition, UNFPA has provided antenatal care to around 12,000 pregnant women, postnatal care to 1,000 women, and assisted with the birth of around 300 babies in the camps. Maintaining safe pregnancies and childbirths remains a priority, and UNFPA is distributing thousands of clean delivery kits with essential supplies for safe birth and post-natal care.  

UNFPA’s clean delivery kits contain basic items necessary for a safe birth, including sterile gloves, a blanket, a plastic sheet, and soap. For only $11 you can help UNFPA provide 3 emergency clean delivery kits to women without access to maternal health services. 


*Names changed for protection reasons 

UNFPA Bangladesh/Naymuzzaman Prince
UNFPA Bangladesh/Naymuzzaman Prince
Camps are overcrowded and lacking privacy.
Camps are overcrowded and lacking privacy.
UNFPA Bangladesh/Naymuzzaman Prince
UNFPA Bangladesh/Naymuzzaman Prince


Jul 26, 2017

Saving Mothers and Newborns in Bangladesh

Anjana with her newborn baby
Anjana with her newborn baby

On April 4, the Trump Administration made the decision to defund UNFPA. This decision will directly affect millions of the most vulnerable women and girls around the world because this loss of funding will cause UNFPA to scale back their work. This puts the lives of women like Anjana at risk.

Anjana began feeling labor pains 36 weeks into her pregnancy. At age 20 giving birth for the first time, she had no idea that these labor pains were a sign that both her life and the life of her baby were at risk. After a full day of suffering from pains and having contractions, her family called for a midwife. By the time the midwife arrived, Anjana was already in obstructed labor and in a potentially fatal condition for both her and her baby.

Lucky for Anjana, this UNFPA-trained midwife knew exactly what to do. She was urgently sent to the Kamalganj health complex where a doctor helped her give birth to a happy and healthy baby. She was later told that if she had delayed going to the hospital any longer, her baby would have died. UNFPA’s clean delivery kits contain basic items necessary for a safe birth, including sterile gloves, a blanket, a plastic sheet, and soap. For only $15 you can help UNFPA provide 3 emergency clean delivery kits to women without access to maternal health services.

Unfortunately, many women like Anjana are not as lucky. Anjana lives and works on the tea plantations, or tea gardens, in the Moulvibazar District of Bangladesh. The vast majority of workers in Bangladesh’s tea gardens are women, and they are also some of the most impoverished and marginalized people in the nation.

These women face the highest rates of pregnancy related deaths in the country. In 2014, 40% of the entire nation’s maternal deaths occurred in these tea gardens and surrounding areas.

UNFPA, partnering with the government of Bangladesh, created a midwife-led health care program to ease this disproportional burden felt by women working in tea gardens. UNFPA trains midwives, who, in turn, provide antenatal care, safe delivery services, and educate the women in these areas about the importance of receiving care during pregnancy and childbirth. What began as five pilot programs in February of 2016 is now double in size. 

As a result of this program’s success, more women like Anjana and her baby are receiving the care they need to have a safe birth. Now, 55,000 people in Bangladesh have access to maternal health services that they did not before. From September of 2016 to April 2017, the UNFPA-trained midwives reached 450 women with antenatal care services and 279 newborns received post-natal care. 

Despite the fact that this program has improved maternal healthcare among Bangladesh’s most vulnerable women, it is at risk of being scaled back. The decision for the U.S. Administration to defund UNFPA has put successful programs such as this at risk of losing necessary funding and puts women and girls at risk. Now, UNFPA needs our help to continue their live saving work.  

UNFPA-trained midwife examining tea garden worker
UNFPA-trained midwife examining tea garden worker
May 1, 2017

Pregnancy complications on an island off of Kenya

Aisha gave birth on a remote island in Kenya
Aisha gave birth on a remote island in Kenya

Pregnancy complications take one woman from island paradise to nightmare at sea

Aisha, now 30, nearly died during the birth of her fifth child.

Aisha lives on a tropical island, Kiwayuu, off the northern coast of Kenya where there are no health facilities and the nearest hospital is on the Lamu Island and can only be accessed by motorboat over wild ocean waves, which could take up to seven hours. As a result of these circumstances, Aisha and other women on the island give birth at home with the help of a traditional birth attendant that usually has limited skills and knowledge.

“In the event of pregnancy-related complications, or even maternal deaths, we would conclude that it was God’s will,” Aisha said.

Aisha had given birth at home to her first four babies with no complications, but this time was different. As soon as she went into labor, she began to hemorrhage dangerously and the traditional birth attendant did not know what to do.  “I couldn’t stop the bleeding. No one could,” she said.

Aisha was suffering from a life-threatening complication and needed urgent medical attention. She was forced to take the journey by motorboat to the hospital on Lamu Island. The waters were rough, yet Aisha had to continue her painful and difficult labor as she continued to bleed. She delivered the baby after 30 minutes and luckily survived.

At the King Fahad County Referral Hospital on Lamu Island, she was treated for the hemorrhage and her baby was diagnosed with low birth weight from intrauterine growth restriction.It is possible that malnutrition or anemia contributed to these conditions, most likely as a result of no antenatal care.

“As a marginalized community, we were ignorant about the importance of antenatal care, largely because we didn’t have a health facility in Kiwayuu.” Aisha said.

Complications such as this one can be solved by increasing access to proper reproductive health care, including antenatal care, skilled birth attendance and safe delivery services. Providing these services would ensure that women can have a safe birth.

UNFPA has partnered with the local government to do just this. They opened a health facility on the island of Kiwayuu where maternal and newborn health equipment and medicines as well as family planning supplies are available for the 600 residents of the island. UNFPA has also trained health workers to provide emergency obstetric and newborn care.

One of these trained health workers is Aisha. She says, “I now work in my community to raise awareness about maternal mortality, its prevention, and access to maternal and child health services.” Thanks to UNFPA and skilled health workers like Aisha, women on the island of Kiwayuu have access to maternal and newborn health care that allows them to have a safe birth.

UNFPA’s clean delivery kits contain basic items necessary for a safe birth, including sterile gloves, a blanket, a plastic sheet, and soap. For only $15 you can help UNFPA provide 3 emergency clean delivery kits to women without access to maternal health services.

Aisha now trains women on maternal care with UNFPA
Aisha now trains women on maternal care with UNFPA
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