Iraq + 4 more

UNFPA prepares to aid pregnant Iraqi women

News and Press Release
Originally published
UNITED NATIONS, New York, 21 March - To protect the health of pregnant women displaced by the war in Iraq, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has put essential medical supplies and equipment in place inside the country and at sites in neighbouring countries where refugees are anticipated.

UNFPA is working to ensure that pregnant women (about one in five women of childbearing age) can give birth safely in a clean environment and receive emergency obstetric care if needed.

The Fund has deployed life-saving equipment -- including mobile emergency obstetric care surgery units, ambulances and ultrasound scanners -- as well as antibiotics and other drugs, clean delivery and postnatal care supplies, sanitary supplies, contraceptives and other reproductive health essentials needed for safe motherhood.

Iraqi women and children have been severely affected by the damage to the health system caused by years of conflict and international sanctions. Maternal mortality has more than trebled, rising from 117 deaths per 100,000 live births in the late 1980s to the current 370. Infant and under-5 mortality have also risen sharply.

Military conflict will further jeopardize the health of displaced women who are pregnant. These women will face enormous risks -- including an increased likelihood of miscarriage, premature delivery, and complications of pregnancy and childbirth -- compounded by a lack of access to health professionals and care.

Pregnancy and birthing complications are generally the leading causes of death for displaced women and girls in times of upheaval, as reproductive health information and services, such as assisted delivery, prenatal care and post-partum care, become unavailable.

To prepare for a quick response to a conflict, the Fund has pre-positioned basic reproductive health supplies inside Iraq, including equipment needed for 35 mobile health units and four referral-level facilities to serve internally displaced persons. UNFPA has deployed a chief of operations to the United Nations humanitarian coordination centre in Cyprus.

In neighbouring countries, UNFPA is working to address the anticipated influx of refugees from Iraq. The Fund is closely coordinating with national authorities, other international agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ensure that reproductive health concerns are included in emergency response operations.

  • In Jordan, for example, UNFPA has provided the Government with safe delivery supplies and trained staff to deliver emergency reproductive and obstetric care, including psychological and trauma counselling.

  • Mobile health units and basic reproductive health supplies have been provided to the Government of Syria, where UNFPA has employed medical personnel to coordinate the humanitarian response.

  • In Iran, UNFPA has opened an office, staffed with an emergency coordinator and support personnel, in Kermanshah, one of the western provinces expected to receive the bulk of new Iraqi refugees.

  • The Fund has positioned reproductive health supplies in Diyarbakir in Turkey, and will also strengthen the logistics and supply system and establish a referral system for reproductive health services.
UNFPA is also responsible for data collection and analysis on behalf of the United Nations regional team addressing the Iraq crisis.

The Fund is closely coordinating this work with other United Nations agencies and major national and international NGOs, including the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Rescue Committee, Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium, Médecins du Monde, Enfants du Monde, Première Urgence, Médecins Sans Frontières and CARE.

To continue these efforts and expand them as conditions allow, UNFPA is asking international donors for $5 million for the next six months.

UNFPA, the world's largest multilateral source of population assistance, has been active in Iraq since 1972 (with brief interruption in the early 1990s), working to improve access to reproductive health and family planning services. As a result of its efforts, the number of primary health care facilities providing reproductive health services increased from 37 in 1995 to 146 in 2001.

For more information, please contact: William Ryan, in New York, tel.: +1 (212) 297-5279, email:; Ziad Rifai, in Amman, mobile: +962 (7) 777-0000, email: or visit UNFPA's website at