After the storm: Pregnant women need urgent care and attention

Ana P. Santos

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Eastern Visayas, the hardest hit region, has about 57,000 pregnant women, the second highest among 9 regions monitored by UNFPA

MOTHERHOOD. The mother (L) of Diana Vegara (R) reaches out to her as yet unnamed one day old baby grandaughter (C) at the Divine Word hospital in the super typhoon devastated city of Tacloban in Leyte. Photo by Nic Bothma/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – An estimated 235,000 pregnant women affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda urgently need assistance, particularly the restoration of maternal and newborn health services.

This was the call made by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) who reports that based on government estimates that between 9 and 13 million Filipinos have been affected by Yolanda, around 900 deliveries are taking place every day in the storm-hit areas, many in makeshift clinics, in the absence of functioning medical facilities and skilled birth attendants.

Each day, approximately 130 of these mothers will experience potentially life-threatening complications. There are also around 157,000 mothers who have delivered in the past 6 months who need care to prevent diseases that could lead to maternal or infant deaths.

“The scale of Typhoon Yolanda was absolutely massive. But women will still continue to give birth [under these conditions], and they must be helped,” said William Ryan, UNFPA communication advisor for Asia Pacific. (READ: ‘Miracle’ baby born amid Yolanda rubble and Breastfeeding Yolanda babies: The soldier as proxy mom)

“There are about 900 women who are going to give birth every day and [of that number] about 40 are expected to need cesarean sections,” added Ryan.

During a humanitarian crisis, aid agencies such as the UNFPA use the population figures of the affected areas and multiply it with the crude birth rate in the Philippines (which is the equivalent of the country’s annual population growth rate) to estimate the number of pregnant women who will need assistance.

“We use these estimates to plan our assistance strategies and also as a basis for procuring our supplies,” said Arlene Alano, UNFPA communications officer.

Eastern Visayas, the hardest hit region, has about 57,000 pregnant women, the second highest among 9 regions monitored by UNFPA. Almost half of that would be in Leyte province, where Tacloban is located.

“Yolanda is classified as a Level 3 emergency. The earthquake in Haiti and the crisis in Syria are also classified as level 3 emergencies,” added Alano.

Specialized care

As disasters like Yolanda become more frequent and intense, health experts and aid workers are calling for the better integration of RH needs in emergency response.

In the Philippines, a large portion of the population do not give birth in a health facility or under the supervision of a skilled birth attendant. This has been identified as a major factor attributing to the country’s high maternal mortality ratio.  (READ: PH needs to accelerate maternal health progress and Are home births being banned?)

“This case becomes worse when there are disasters like this where midwives and healthcare personnel are among the affected and there is a breakdown or total disruption of medical services,” said Nandy Senoc, Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP) Officer in Charge.

“Medical missions are always part of emergency response, but what this does is mostly to treat injuries and such. Pregnant women need special attention because of their condition and because the extreme trauma they are going through will add stress,” said Senoc.

“RH needs are not always a priority like food and shelter – which is understandable—but we saw these same RH needs already in Sendong and then again in Davao Oriental. They need to be given more attention,” said Senoc.

As part of the UN’s Humanitarian Action Plan for typhoon Haiyan launched last week, UNFPA is mobilizing P172 million ($4 million) to support the restoration of health services to restore life-saving maternal and newborn care, including emergency obstetrics care to ensure safe births. –

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Ana P. Santos

Ana P. Santos is an investigative journalist who specializes in reporting on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and migrant worker rights.