Pregnant women at serious risk among Pakistan’s displaced population

Pregnant women and new mothers displaced by fighting in North West Pakistan are facing a potential health crisis, warn Islamic Relief’s medical teams in the region. A lack of appropriate healthcare, poor diet and the stress of the conflict and displacement are putting the lives of pregnant women and their babies at risk.

“Many of the pregnant women here are anaemic and malnourished and this is very dangerous,” said Dr. Jawad Ali from Islamic Relief’s health team in Char Gulli, in Mardan District. “If a woman is anaemic she is more likely to go into shock during labour. Malnutrition can cause babies to be born under-weight and women to have problems breastfeeding,” he warned.

“The mental health of a woman is also very important during pregnancy,” said Dr Ali. “She should not suffer anxiety or stress as this can cause premature births. I am worried that the current situation could have adverse affects on pregnant women and their babies.”

There are 69,000 pregnant women in need of healthcare amongst more than 2.5 million who have been displaced, most of whom are living with host families. This figure is likely to increase as people continue to flee the conflict in Buner and Swat. Islamic Relief is providing health services in the local community but like other agencies is struggling to recruit trained female doctors to work in such a volatile environment.

Local culture means women are reluctant to be seen by a male doctor for their gynaecological concerns. There are also concerns that the majority of these women will not be able to afford the cost of transportation to a clinic once they are in labour and may be forced to give birth at home in unhygienic conditions and without any medical help.

Raza ul Haq, Islamic Relief’s Programme Coordinator in Mardan said, “Even before this crisis the local health clinic in Char Gulli had very limited resources. There was no female doctor and no specialist maternal health facilities.

“Islamic Relief is supporting the local health unit by providing doctors, equipment, medication and a 24 hour ambulance service but we are still desperately trying to recruit a female doctor. We consider this to be a priority as we know that without medical care the lives of many women and babies are at serious risk.”

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