Sudan: UNFPA Darfur emergency efforts are providing women IDPs with choices for safer and healthier lives

DARFUR, Sudan - Little did Fatima Hashem Ali imagine that she would soon regain part of her previous life, having fled with her family a year ago to Sereif Camp, from her home village of Jabal Marra, in South Darfur, when she and her family were forced out because of the fighting and ethic conflict. Ten kilometres North of Nyala, South Darfur, Sereif camp has become the home and refuge to Fatima, 52 years old, her family and over 12,000 other Sudanese Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

At The camp clinic, run by CARE and supported by UNFPA, a Reproductive Health centre provides services in family planning, antenatal care, post natal care and health education. All rape cases from within and outside the camp are referred to the clinic too. These services are also made available to the host communities around the camp.

Fatima, a midwife by training, was discovered by the camp religious leaders, when in collaboration with CARE and UNFPA, were searching among IDPs for women with midwifery skills to be retrained to assist at the camp clinic. Fatima gladly volunteered, was retrained at the midwifery school in Nyala, which is supported by UNFPA, and started assisting with the deliveries spring of 2004. By December of that year, she was officially recruited by CARE because of her competence and outstanding skills.

Currently, Fatima is working as a midwife, side by side with other midwives, medical assistants, social workers and the only general practitioner at the camp, Dr. Hisham Abdallah from West Darfur. She delivers on average 30 women per month and assists in the antenatal and postnatal care of these women. She is earning approximately US$100 per month to provide for her family and hopes to earn more in the future.

On average, the camp doctor treats 35 women per day, and the medical assistants see up to 50 patients per day. UNFPA provides all necessary medical equipment, STI kits, child delivery and post-rape kits to ensure adequate services to these women and their newborn babies. According to Dr. Abdullah, the rate of maternal mortality among IDPs at the camp has dropped considerably since these interventions started.

At this time, the Sereif camp clinic does not have an HIV/AIDS testing unit because the camp structure lacks all the essential elements to accommodate a laboratory, thus suspected patients are referred to the main Nyala Teaching Hospital. Dr. Abdullah hopes that one day funds can become available to build and equip a complete medical laboratory that includes HIV/AIDS testing.

The family planning unit's senior social assistant, Nadia Abdel Ishac, underlines the women's receptivity to medical instructions given by the staff, and senior reproductive health officer, Mohammed Ali Ahmed, points out that effective and close coordination exist between CARE and UNFPA, which reflects positively on the services provided and the recipients. "However, there is a growing need for antibiotics and oral contraceptive," He adds; more and more men are visiting the camp's clinic and requesting condoms.

A short walk from the clinic stands UNFPA's women's centre, a facility that is helping displaced women to develop their technical skills to earn much needed incomes. Many of the women have been trained on pottery making for domestic use, and are generating incomes for their families. In addition to training and skills development, the center offers literacy classes and gender-based violence awareness.

Fatima Mohammad, a 35-year-old mother of three, is now one of the volunteer pottery trainers at the centre. She produces around 50 pots weekly and sells them to the camp's host communities for approximately $2.00. Fatima is very proud of her achievement and determined to succeed "...I started my training nine month ago. The team at the centre has given me hope and strength to go on, and a means to provide for my family. I am a volunteer trainer because I would like to give something back to the centre, help the other women and show them that they can do something for themselves and their children."

At the camp eight religious leaders, seven men and a woman, known as the Sheikhs and the Sheikha have been working closely with Care and UNFPA to raise awareness on health issues and services available to the IDPs at the clinic and women's center. They praised the women's centre achievements and expressed their desire to receive additional training.

Sheikh Ibrahim, one of the leaders, stated, "...we believe that if we receive more training in HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, family planning, and gender-based violence, this will assist us in increasing the awareness among our fellow men and women in the camp, and will lower everyone's risk and make the medical team's work easier." Seizing the moment, he adds, smiling, "...and while we're at it, can we have 2,000 blue plastic covers for our tents to protect the families living here from the winter season's cold."

Due to positive results, the UNFPA women's centre is planning to expand its training sessions to include additional skill development like mat-weaving and sewing classes. These expenditures require supplementary funds for equipment and materials, which UNFPA seeks to secure from the generosity of its donors.

The situation of internally displaced persons in Darfur is complex and critical. Those who managed to find refuge in IDP camps or host communities often refused to return to their villages out of fear from further attacks. The impact of the violence committed outside the IDP camps is exacerbated by the fact that women and their families depended on the collection of firewood for their livelihood and survival. In most of the cases, it was the women and girls who went outside the camps to search for firewood and water, since they had a better chance to survive attacks than the men and boys who risked being killed. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse are widely reported from outside and inside camps, making displaced women and girls vulnerable to STIs, including HIV/AIDS infections.

UNFPA emergency intervention efforts are providing displaced women and girls with more choices and alternative solutions to lead a safer, healthier and more dignified life. With offices in the three Darfur states, UNFPA emergency intervention programme is implementing its comprehensive plan of interventions to improve reproductive health services, raise awareness and provide counseling on reproductive health related issues including gender- based violence.

Henrietta Aswad