Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
Brooklyn, New York, United States
June 01
Freelance writer, editor, and first citizen of Judy's World.

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JANUARY 25, 2010 6:58PM

How the Haitian tragedy is impacting pregnant women

Rate: 7 Flag

  Emanise Joseph
Emanise Joseph and her month-old son Emerson
(Source: Carin Wint for UNFPA)

It should be obvious to everyone by now that children are suffering the most in the current earthquake disaster in Haiti. But one section of the population is facing a special set of challenges: some 63,000 pregnant women who are among the approximately three million persons impacted by the tragedy so far.

According to UN reports, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake has largely wiped out prenatal care in large portions of a country that had little of it to begin with. Haiti already had the Western Hemisphere's highest infant mortality rate, with 671 out of 100,000 women dying in childbirth, and that was before the earthquake struck. 7,000 Haitian women are expected to give birth in the coming month, and 15 percent of them are likely to suffer from potentially fatal complications. The earthquake has not only destroyed several hospitals specializing in obstetric care, it has also destroyed one of the country's three nursing schools and has also eliminated Haiti's only midwifery school, which had been turning out an average of thirty-five qualified midwives each year.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is rushing aid to Haitian women, supplying eighteen safe delivery and reproductive health kits to the country's surviving hospitals, various health-related NGOs, and mobile clinics. These supplies, which had already been in storage in Port-au-Prince in a warehouse that withstood the earthquake, should supply the needs of 150,000 women for the next three months. The kits contain medicines, supplies, and equipment for sterile deliveries and obstetric emergencies, post-rape care, treatment of complications from unsafe abortions,  sexually transmitted infections, and other reproductive health-related issues.

The UNFPA is also distributing 20,000 "dignity kits," which include  sanitary napkins, diapers, anti-bacterial soap, and other hygiene and cleaning supplies "that allow women to live with dignity and tend to their children even amidst the worst circumstances."

But as things are now, Haiti needs much more than outside aid deliveries. Not only is its infrastructure in ruins, its government is in severe disarray and is scarcely in a position to provide basic services.  Haiti's Ministry of Women was in a meeting with its UNFPA development partners when the earthquake struck the capital. Almost everyone present was killed or injured. According to Tania Patriota, UNFPA Representative for Haiti, “We lost 90 per cent of our partners in the Ministry ... when its building collapsed.”

For now, doctors are making do with whatever they have, and have even been reduced to performing C-sections on park benches. The women's situation is bound to improve as outside aid keeps arriving. However, Haitian women can only hope that the measures currently being undertaken to improve overall healthcare for women will continue long after the news cameras are gone. The UNFPA has already been on the ground working with Haitian women for thirty years. Isn't it about time Haiti was helped into a position where it can provide these essential supplies and services for its own people?

Haitian girl giving birth
Click on the image to see a BBC report on
pregnant women in the Haitian crisis

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Thank for this look at reality in Haiti. Me being me, I'm going to plug again for UNICEF. xox
A great (but shocking) story. Thanks for following this for us.
Wow, what a reality check. Great reporting.
Thank you for highlighting an another sorrowful aspect of this calamity. Now the emphasis should be on delivery, in both senses.
Here's another plug

I also posted a story on ways to help with the relief efforts. This is such a huge tradegy. Your article made me think about Nick Kristof's Half the Sky and his chapters on womens health issues in lesser developed countries. You did a good job with this post and I hope that our efforts will extend beyond the first weeks and into the rest of this year and next. Also, let's all buy Newsweek this week with Obama's article Why Haiti Matters and make this issue Newsweek's best selling mag of 2010. Haiti does matter and we care.
Thanks for the kind comments, everyone. I'm glad the story is getting out!