PAKISTAN floods womens health in grave danger

CARE calls for more funding to support women with essential health care and relief items/ “Babies cannot wait for funding to be born”

PAKISTAN, ISLAMABAD (October 20, 2011) – CARE International, one of the leading humanitarian organizations, is warning that thousands of women and girls in flood hit regions of Sindh Province in southern Pakistan are at risk of illness and disease due to the current floods.

“As the flood destroyed homes, women continue to live in makeshift shelters along exposed roadside, many caring for 10-12 children”, says CARE Pakistan’s country director Waleed Rauf, who has just visited Sindh. “Most women lack access to clean drinking water, latrines, mosquito nets or adequate food. Even those lucky enough to have secured temporary shelter are highly vulnerable. There is little or no access to medical services or spaces for safe breastfeeding or delivery.”

Of the more than five million people currently affected by the floods in Sindh, approximately 143,750 of them are pregnant women.  Of these, 15 percent - or 21,562 women - will need medical treatment for obstetric complications.  CARE understands that women and children make up a significant proportion of populations affected by emergencies who need reproductive health services such as family planning, prevention and treatment of sexual violence in addition to clean delivery services as well as emergency obstetric and newborn care.

CARE International is operating Mobile health units together with a local partner to bring basic medical care including antenatal and postnatal care and establishing a referral system for medical emergencies such as obstetric emergencies for flood affected people in some of the worst affected areas. “What shocked us was to find that people had been displaced for so long,” says Rauf. “Women and children are the most dramatically affected. CARE is scaling up the response, but we need more funding.” So far, only 22 percent of the money pledged to support the emergency relief has been funded by international donors.

Many of the challenges faced by women in the Mirpurkhas area in Sindh are not immediately apparent. As Dr Malik Umair, Senior Health Advisor for CARE explains: “These women need to know how to get safe drinking water. But they have no bucket, no jerry cans to store and carry water, no plastic container, no pot to boil the water in to make it safe for drinking.”

“Privacy” is a serious health issue for women, particularly pregnant and lactating women. “They are trapped, exposed on the roadside, and there are no private latrines,” Umair says. The men can go anywhere, anytime, but the women must wait until night-time, under cover of dark, and with darkness they are vulnerable to other abuses. Breastfeeding a baby must wait until nightfall if there is no appropriate shelter. Gynecological examinations and delivering a baby are further complicated by cultural issues. Female doctors or health visitors are in desperately short supply. Local hospitals are non-functional, treating only emergencies. Traditional birth attendants have also been affected by the flood – caring for their own displaced families. “Babies cannot wait for funding to be born. Deliveries are happening in the roadside or waste-covered fields by unskilled attendants,” Umair explains. The United Nations estimates that 440 women in eight districts worst affected by floods in Sindh go into labor every day, 60 of whom may have potentially life-threatening pregnancy-related complications. CARE has six mobile medical teams, each with one male and one female doctor, treating 230-240 people a day, most of them women, requesting women doctors.

Dr. Umair insists that there is hope for this emergency to create longer term strategies to help those most affected by the floods: “With sufficient funding, there could even be positive outcomes from interventions at this stage. The floods last year exposed that pregnant and lactating women in this region were severely malnourished, so we were able to address that issue while responding to the emergency.”

Mujahid Hussain, our Team Leader in Sindh writes about his day with the mobile health teams.

Read the blogs of our colleagues from Pakistan here and learn how with each new flood girls in Pakistan are at risk of quietly being sold for brides.

Media contacts:
Geneva: Sandra Bulling, Communications Officer, +41 79 205 6951, [email protected]
Atlanta: Brian Feagans, Communications Manager, +1 404 457 4644, [email protected]

About CARE: Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE places special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. Women are at the heart of CARE's community-based efforts to improve education, health and economic opportunity.