Pregnant women at greater risk in conflict in Sri Lanka
Thousands of pregnant women caught up in the fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are in urgent need of healthcare, according to aid workers. “I was scared. I didn’t know if we were going to make it,” 23-year-old Thanusiya told IRIN. At eight months pregnant and after weeks of shelling, she and her husband escaped to the northern, government-controlled town of Vavuniya last month. Given the number of civilians who have fled to government-controlled areas, coupled with those still trapped inside the conflict zone, the numbers of women in the same position as Thanusiya could easily be in the thousands. “Women do not stop getting pregnant or giving birth to their babies even when on the move or when living in camps,” Lene Christiansen, country representative for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) [see: http://srilanka.unfpa.org/] in Colombo said, expressing concern for the large proportion of high-risk pregnancies among women in displaced persons camps as well as increased teenage pregnancies. According to UNFPA, pregnancy-related disabilities and death often rise in conflict situations when reproductive health services, including pre-natal care, assisted delivery and emergency obstetric care are disrupted and often unavailable. At the same time, many women lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unwanted pregnancies. About 70,000 civilians remain trapped in the conflict area, the government reports, while international agencies place their numbers at up to 150,000.
As of 6 April, some 60,000 Tamil civilians had fled and were now being housed in 29 camps in Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna districts, the government reported. Should that influx continue, aid workers addressing the reproductive health needs of women will be stretched. “If 100,000 people come, the number of pregnant women could easily reach 8,000 or more,” Anura Priyaratne, district programme manager of a local NGO, the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (FPASL) [see: http://www.fpasl.org/home_eng.php] in Vavuniya, told IRIN. “We need to be prepared,” Priyaratne said, citing the importance of spreading their coverage to other camps in the area through their mobile clinics. With local and regional authorities, and supported by UNFPA, the local NGO provides reproductive health services to IDPs in the Vavuniya District through its two mobile health clinics, which visit the camps weekly. In addition to prenatal and postnatal care, assistance includes basic reproductive health services as well as the distribution of clean delivery kits and hygiene items for women and girls of reproductive age through its LISA (Life saving emergency reproductive health services) project. Women in labour are taken to Vavuniya Hospital, where UNFPA has provided equipment for emergency obstetric care.
In addition, UNFPA supports the FPASL in expanding health awareness, with a specific emphasis on HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.