Humaira Maheen, Elizabeth Hoban
Background: Women are more vulnerable than men in the same natural disaster setting. Preexisting gender inequality, socio-cultural community dynamics and poverty puts women at significant risk of mortality. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable because of their limited or no access to prenatal and obstetric care during any disaster or humanitarian emergency setting.
Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 15 women who gave birth during the 2011 floods in Sindh Province, Pakistan. Thematic analysis explored women’s experiences of pregnancy and giving birth in natural disaster settings, the challenges they faced at this time and strategies they employed to cope with them.
Results: Women were not afforded any control over decisions about their health and safety during the floods. Decisions about the family’s relocation prior to and during the floods were made by male kin and women made no contribution to that decision making process. There were no skilled birth attendants, ambulances, birthing or breastfeeding stations and postnatal care for women in the relief camps. Women sought the assistance of the traditional birth attendants when they gave birth in unhygienic conditions in the camps.
Conclusion: The absence of skilled birth attendants and a clean physical space for childbirth put women and their newborn infants at risk of mortality. A clean physical space or birthing station with essential obstetric supplies managed by skilled birth attendants or community health workers can significantly reduce the risks of maternal morbidity and mortality in crisis situations.