By Amie Newman, Managing Editor
UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) estimates that there are 37,000 pregnant women among the survivors of last week's earthquake in Haiti, a country which in the best of times has the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western Hemisphere. In the aftermath of the earthquake and the resulting crises, women are giving birth in the streets, and an already dire situation has been made far worse.
In her post, Providing Gender-Responsive Aid in Haiti, Lucinda Marshall outlined the many organizations providing aid and services to women in order to meet women's specific health needs in Haiti (despite the rather puerile protestations of male writers and advocates Lucinda acknowledges in her post):
(W)omen of reproductive age face limitations in accessing pre-natal and post-natal care, as well as greater risk of vaginal infections, pregnancy complications including spontaneous abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and post-traumatic stress. An increase in violence against women was also recorded…
…(I)n natural disaster situations and in post-disaster recuperation, the cases of violence may increase. “Given the stress that this situation caused and the life in the refuges, men attacked women more frequently.
Circle of Health International (COHI) is working to make sure women's health needs in Haiti do not "fall through the cracks" as the world responds to the tragedy.
COHI is an organization based in Massachusetts targeting women in crisis in such countries as Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Sudan and Haiti in order to help provide women's health care and work with local, grassroots groups on the ground to maximize capacity for the provision of such care. COHI has sent a group of midwives, other health providers and public health professionals to Haiti to assess the most pressing women's health concerns and then to ensure that the women in Haiti receive the health care critical to their survival.
According to COHI,
"...while securing food, water and shelter are essential to responding to crisis, women's health needs – often a matter of life and death – do not cease to exist in crisis and post-crisis situations. In fact, the already dire condition of women's health in these communities is often further threatened in times of emergency."
For every 100,000 live births, 670 Haitian women die from pregnancy- related causes each year. Only 26 percent of women in Haiti are "privileged" with a skilled birth attendant during chidlbirth.
The reality of the current situation is that there are millions of survivors requiring an immense amount of medical care. And while the medical centers and hospitals that are left standing are overwhelmed, pregnant women call out for specific and immediate care as well. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) writes:
"The remaining [hospitals] can barely handle the thousands in need of medical care. The current situation is putting the lives of thousands of women and their infants at risk from complications related to pregnancy and child birth."
In fact, the humanitarian organization CARE goes so far as to say that pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young children are at greastest risk post-crisis. In an article on Alertnet.com, CARE notes,
"With limited or no access to health facilities, pregnant women are at an even greater risk of complications and death related to pregnancy and childbirth."
"There are a lot of pregnant women in the streets, and mothers breastfeeding new babies," said Sophie Perez, country director for CARE in Haiti. "There are also women giving birth in the street, directly in the street. The situation is very critical. Women try to reach the nearest hospital, but as most of the hospitals are full, it's very difficult for them to receive the appropriate care. Mothers and their babies could die from complications without medical care."