What about women?
In the face of a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan, matters like sexual and reproductive health fall by the wayside as survivors focus on simply living day to day. one inspirational project is hoping to change that by helping governments and medical personnel
UNDER normal conditions, a pregnant women wouldn’t worry much about her delivery; after all, in most urbanised areas, she would have access to a hospital, expert staff and all the necessary equipment when the time comes.
But imagine conditions that are far from normal. Imagine the fateful day of Nov 8, when Typhoon Haiyan made its catastrophic way through the Philippines, flattening, among other things, clinics and hospitals, killing medical personnel and damaging road infrastructure – and thus trapping expectant women far from any medical services.
Villages and communities were wiped out in their entirety, almost 6,000 people were killed, while the lives of 14.4 people were brutally disrupted; of that, over four million men, women and children were displaced (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).
According to the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development, an estimated 233,697 pregnant women have been affected and critically require specialised reproductive health services. In evacuation centres alone where the displaced are temporarily housed, the count of pregnant women stood at 7,973 last month.
Yet in the aftermath of such devastation, as survivors desperately scramble for basic necessities like food, drinking water and shelter, reproductive health needs are often overlooked and take a backseat to other humanitarian priorities.
This existing gap in relief efforts is what the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is addressing. Specifically, the IPPF’s project SPRINT (Sexual and Reproduction Health Programme in Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations) deals with things like the supply of clean delivery kits for safe, hygienic and smooth deliveries to reduce the rate of maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity (the occurrence of disease/illness in the mother or baby).
Sprint also conducts counselling sessions and post-rape treatment services for victims of sexual violence; the risk of sexual violence towards both women and men have proved to increase during crisis situations.
At a recent briefing in Kuala Lumpur, Sprint’s East and South-East Asia and Oceania region manager Dr Subatra Jayaraj said a US$200,000 (RM659,300) grant has been channelled to the Philippines’ Family Planning Organisation, a local partner that the IPPF closely collaborates with for this sexual and reproduction health programme.
The funding amount, derived from an A$10mil (RM29.3mil) grant received from the Australian government, is specifically meant to assist 60,000 beneficiaries in barangays (villages) and evacuation centres over a three-month period until February.
“Of the 14.4 million affected people, 25% are women who are of reproductive age, which is equivalent to 3.6 million,” says Dr Subatra, 31, a Malaysian medical professional with 10 years of experience in com- munity and social health development work.
“This serves to indicate the large number of women who could get pregnant by their spouses as people still have sexual intercourse even in times of crisis. There are also cases of unplanned pregnancies especially when contraception is not used, or when a girl or woman is raped.
“Right now, it is estimated that 900 babies are born daily in the typhoon-hit regions. But with limited access to medical facilities and aid, newborns are exposed to the risk of respiratory complications and infections, and mothers to childbirth complications and obstructed labour that can result in death.
“Yet these deaths are mostly preventable if a basic and sterile delivery kit is available. A simple cloth can help warm the baby against developing cold or hypo- thermia, while clean gloves can be used to contract a mother’s uterus to prevent excessive bleeding post delivery.
“These life-saving items are often taken for granted until times of emergency, amid chaos and ruins, when we realise they are not readily accessible,” she stresses, adding that even a clean blade makes a difference in ensuring the umbilical cord is cut without an infection hazard.
At the same briefing, Sprint resource mobilisation manager Azrul Mohd Khalib says this area of healthcare is beyond traditional health needs that are addressed during a crisis.
“Sexual reproductive health service is one area that hasn’t been adequately recognised by humanitarian responders and communities on the ground. In the Philippines, it remains an ongoing challenge, as access to reproductive health rights is often faced with opposition due to religious and cultural sensitivities.
“It cannot be emphasised enough how essential these services are – past experiences in a crisis have shown that 15% of women giving birth will encounter life-threatening emergency situations and more than 5% of them will require a Caeasariansection,” says Azrul, 37, who is also Malaysian.
Then there’s also the issue of sexual violence and harassment being addressed by Sprint, as security and safety-related problems intensify when thousands of people rendered homeless by a disaster are crammed into a single shelter.
“Young women and children become susceptible and vulnerable to gender-based violence. A scenario could play out something like this: a girl is asked by her mother to fetch some tank for distance exposed fact, on Haiyan, service through offering ( as
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Life-saving information: Pregnant women and lactating mothers at a reproductive health information session in the Taluksangay barangay which they were also given dignity kits. The kits contain over 20 personal hygiene items like soap, shampoo, sanitary napkins, a potty,
cloth called malong (being held up by the Sprint officer) that Filipinas use for everything, as towel, blanket, baby’s cradle, body Planning organisation of the Philippines
dr Subatra Jayaraj explaining how a clean and sterile delivery kit can help save a mother’s and her baby’s life in times of crisis where such items are not easily available.