Sudan

Sudan: UNFPA prescribes a new lease on health and life for Kalma's mothers and newborns

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DARFUR, Sudan - With a faint voice and eyes half-way closed, Hajja was able to briefly tell her story. Five months ago, with her seven children and husband they fled their village, Duma, to Kalma camp seeking refuge and security from the conflict that has shattered their lives and left them homeless. They left behind a home and a small farm. Hajja was four months pregnant at the time, when she and her family had to walk 55 Km (22 miles) in the desert heat until they reached the Kalma camp, the place they call home today.

Kalma camp is the largest in Darfur; it is home to over 200,000 internally displaced persons. The camp women's clinic is run by the "Medecins du Monde" and supported by UNFPA. There, Hajja and her unborn child were able to receive all the medical care and attention necessary to keep them healthy. Antenatal care was provided until she delivered her newborn baby on 10 May, 2005 at 9:45 a.m. A beautiful and healthy baby girl, named "Hope". She weighed 7.3lbs and was being cleaned-up by Khadija, the midwife.

On a single bed in the delivery unit, laid Hajja, the 30 years old mother, and "Hope" next to her. She is Hajja's eighth child. By their side sat two of her boys watching over their mother and newborn sister. Now mother and daughter will be receiving all the post-natal care they need to lead a healthy life.

The Kalma women's clinic medical team consists of two doctors, four medical assistants and two midwives. On average, each of the doctors treats 60 women per day; each medical assistant attends to 55 women daily; the family planning unit receives 75 women per day, and the two midwives deliver 4 to 5 babies a day.

In developing countries, pregnancy and childbirth are always risky: one woman dies every minute from pregnancy-related causes. In crisis areas, precarious conditions multiply that risk:

Premature deliveries, miscarriages brought on by trauma, and unsafe abortions resulting from unwanted pregnancies are all linked to crisis situations - and all require medical treatment.

Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death and disability for women aged 15 to 49 in most developing countries. Pregnant women must be a priority from the moment a crisis begins.

Only 53 per cent of deliveries in developing countries take place with a skilled midwife, yet the assistance of health professionals at delivery significantly reduces death, illness and disability. Emergency conditions mean even less access to trained assistance.

Women are 30 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than women in developed countries.

Humanitarian support for reproductive health and prompt treatment could save most of the half million women's lives lost to pregnancy and childbirth complications each year. UNFPA safe motherhood interventions in Darfur aim to reduce the high numbers of maternal deaths and illnesses.

Dr. Suman Shanshoeva, Emergency Intervention Programme Coordinator and Head of UNFPA's Mission in Darfur, pointed out that, since 2004, dozens of medical equipment and thousands of family planning, delivery and rape kits have been distributed to all camps' clinics and hospitals in the greater Darfur area. Over 1,800 health providers, relief and community workers have been trained in reproductive health services, such as:

- Antenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and post-natal care

- Management of obstetric and neonatal complications and emergencies

- Prevention and treatment of reproductive tract and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS

- Early diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer and reproductive tract cancers (men and women)

- Promotion, education and support for exclusive breast feeding

- Prevention and appropriate treatment of sub-fertility and infertility

- Active discouragement of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/cutting

- Adolescent sexual and reproductive health

- Prevention and management of gender-based violence

- Family planning/birth spacing services

Around 2,232 reproductive health staff working for the Ministry of Health and Implementing Partners (NGOs and CBOs) were provided technical training and support. In the area of STIs and HIV/AIDS, UNFPA has been supplying hundreds of testing kits, advocating for better health policies that protect women's rights, and supporting the Ministry of Health in the development of emergency assistance manuals and guidelines. Training sessions on gender-based violence and cultural sensitization are ongoing. Dr. Shanshoeva added, "...to meet the increasing high demands of emergency requests and ensure quality interventions, UNFPA doubled its technical and professional human resources, and increased by a third its support staff on the ground in Darfur." However, with over 2.3 million internally displaced persons in all three Darfur states, and view of the present security situation, UNFPA as well as other United Nations agencies and implementing partners are doing their utmost best to secure health and humanitarian services to the largest numbers of IDPs.

Henrietta Aswad