KONSO, Ethiopia - "Saying goodbye to my second baby was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life," said Melese Meseret, who is mourning the loss of her son in her tent at Gabelo IDP site in Konso, a town in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia.
Melese, a 30 year-old-mother, lives with her three daughters in a camp set up temporarily by the government after ethnic conflict broke out in their village on a fateful day in November, 2020.
"This conflict has brought only losses to my life. We have lost everything we had; our home, our goats, sheeps, and our land. And now, I have lost my son, my second son," said Melese with affliction.
Today, Melese lives alone with no more income than a goat that provides milk for her three daughters and the support of the community in one of the shelters established to host families displaced by the crisis. Across SNNP Region, there are an estimated 228,823 internally displaced people living in informal and sub-standard sites, with limited access to basic services and life-saving health care.
"I was carried on a wooden stretcher by the community all the way to the nearest health facility. They couldn't save my son. It was too late," said Melese to UNFPA.
Maternal Health in tatters by conflict
Melese's devastating story is not unique. "In the last months, three more women lost their babies in this camp, despite all the efforts of the community", said one of the officials of the Gabelo Camp whose identity is concealed for protection reasons.
Maternal health service including safe delivery has been significantly hampered in the region, with some health centers being looted and occupied during the conflict. Services are further compromised by poor infrastructure, poor capacity, and lack of referral mechanisms to link cases with emergency obstetric complications.
"We have a high incidence of newborn mortality due to obstructed labor and delays in the referral process, including a critical shortage of supplies," says the Medical Director at Gelabo Health Center.
Antenatal and early postnatal care are some of the most critical services to reduce maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality, particularly during crises. Although critical, services are often inadequate or insufficient.
Like Melese, there are currently more than 110,000 pregnant women in SNNPR, and nearly 17,000 are estimated to experience some type of obstetric complication with potentially deadly consequences.
Increasing coverage of maternal and reproductive health services
In 2021 alone, UNFPA has supported 17 health facilities with Emergency Reproductive Health Kits, capacity building for medical staff, the establishment of a One-Stop Center and 10 Youth and Adolescent Friendly Spaces, and provision of 2 ambulances to strengthen the referral system to manage obstetric complications in the conflict-affected Gedeo and West Guji zones in the SNNP and Oromia regions respectively.
Despite all the efforts, much support is needed to respond to new communal conflicts and climate-related shocks impacting the region.
The UNFPA Humanitarian Response appeal of nearly $14 million will ensure universal health coverage in sexual and reproductive care and the strengthening of health systems in 8 regions affected by multiple crises in Ethiopia through the end of 2022. To date, only 24% of this appeal has materialized.
Despite the dire situation, Melese allows herself to imagine a better time with a shared hope: “I hope that when the war is over and peace will begin, I can go back to farm our land in Oltaga and see my daughters growing up in front of my eyes”.