The U.N. Population Fund has expressed concern over the effects that Hurricane Matthew will have on the more than 8,400 pregnant women in the country and those who will need cesarean sections or other maternal care. It has pledged to make maternal health in Haiti a key aspect of its response to Hurricane Matthew.
The organization has pledged to send 252 emergency reproductive health kits to 450,000 people in the next three months. These kits will include resources such as medicine and supplies for safe deliveries, rape treatment and voluntary family planning. The organization also plans to certify local midwives through their own UNFPA supported schools and to open clinics that these midwives will staff. In total, UNFPA hopes to raise $5 million for this project.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin explained the necessity for the project, stating, “Hurricane Matthew delivered a severe blow to Haiti’s health facilities, whether by flooding these centers or blowing off their roofs and putting them out of service. Our urgent task is to protect the health and rights of women and girls and to ensure that their basic needs, which are often overlooked in humanitarian situations, are quickly met. We will work to help women give birth and live, despite this tragedy.”
Maternal health in Haiti has been an issue in the country since well before Hurricane Matthew. Haiti has the highest maternal and infant death rates in the western hemisphere and, in light of Matthew’s aftermath, these rates are expected to rise. UNFPA warned in a press release that an estimated 13,650 women are expected to give birth in the next three months, and the storm’s destruction of many healthcare facilities on the island has raised serious concern among human rights groups.
According to the World Health Organization, approximately 830 women die each day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, and 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world.
Adolescent pregnancies are very common in Haiti, and since family planning has been interrupted by the storm, such pregnancies are expected to rise in the next few months. According to a 2012 survey, approximately 11 percent of adolescent girls in the country have at least one child.
Magdala Bourdeau, a midwife in Haiti told UNFPA, “Since November 3, we have carried out several deliveries and received several types of pathologies, such as pre-eclampsia, severe anemia, high blood pressure and premature pregnancies.”
Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of Médecins Sans Frontières, reports that the five main causes of maternal death include hemorrhage, sepsis (infection), complications resulting from unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labor. Such conditions are usually preventable with access to medical care, but maternal death rates remain high in areas where disaster or conflict has limited access to such care.
The U.N. Population Fund aims to protect maternal health in Haiti and hopes to raise the $5 million that it needs in time to do so.
– Eva Kennedy