Haiti: Tens of thousands of pregnant women at risk

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CARE response targets vulnerable women and children

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Jan. 16, 2010) - CARE warns that pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young children are at greatest risk after Tuesday's devastating quake that devastated the capital city of Port-au-Prince left nearly three million people in need of assistance. There is an estimated 37,000 pregnant women among the affected population in urgent need of safe drinking water, food and medical care. Half of Haiti's population is younger than 18 years old.

Hospitals and medical centres have been destroyed, and remaining centres are overwhelmed treating people injured from the quake. With limited or no access to health facilities, pregnant women are at an even greater risk of complications and death related to pregnancy and childbirth. Haiti already has the highest rate of maternal death in the region: 670 deaths per 100,000 live births.

"There are a lot of pregnant women in the streets, and mothers breastfeeding new babies," said Sophie, Perez, Country Director for CARE in Haiti. "There are also women giving birth in the street, directly in the street. The situation is very critical. Women try to reach the nearest hospital, but as most of the hospitals are full, it's very difficult for them to receive the appropriate care. Mothers and their babies could die from complications without medical care."

In general, approximately 15% of all pregnant women will experience a complication requiring medical interventions. This is even worse in a disaster situation. The majority of maternal deaths result from hemorrhage, infection, miscarriage, prolonged/obstructed labour and hypertensive disorders, many of which could be avoided with medical care.

CARE, which focuses on empowering women and girls as part of our global fight against poverty, has partnered with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Haiti to help meet the urgent needs of pregnant and lactating women after the earthquake. CARE has extensive ongoing health programs in Haiti, and will work with the local government to rebuild their health capacity.

To help meet the specific needs of pregnant women, new mothers and children, CARE is focusing on the following as part of its immediate emergency response:

-distribution of water purification tablets to provide clean water, particularly for pregnant women and children who are particularly susceptible to water-borne illness such as diarrhea;

-distribution of emergency food rations;

-distribution of infant kits for mothers with newborns and young babies;

-distribution of hygiene kits that include basic hygiene items such as soap and toothpaste, but also sanitary napkins and panties for women.

After disasters, CARE normally also provides safe delivery kits for women and health centres to facilitate safer, cleaner deliveries. We are working together with partners to determine how to procure these items as quickly as possible.

"It is also particularly crucial that new mothers continue breastfeeding, which provides the safest nutrition to their babies," said Perez. "There is an urgent need for clean drinking water and additional nutritious food so new mothers do not become sick, dehydrated or malnourished, which may prevent them from breastfeeding."

CARE's immediate response is focused on delivering food, clean water, emergency supplies and temporary shelter, and helping the local government rebuild the health-care system. Today, CARE is distributing an eight-day supply of water purification tablets at three health centres for 12,000 people. CARE has launched a US$10 million appeal for a three-year emergency relief and recovery program for the affected population.