Safe births in crisis times

Fasileni Kanyenga was in her eighth month of pregnancy when she fled heavy rains that displaced about 79 000 people in the southern half of Malawi in March. Each passing day, she was looking forward to a safe delivery at Chitekesa Health Centre in Phalombe.

The mother of three was aware of all the requirements for delivery and was ready for it. Then, heavy rains, which poured for three days, destroyed and washed away all she had collected in preparation for the birth of her fourth born.

“Our house fell and all I carried as I ran away from the flooded home were few clothes. I could not even rescue her blanket,” she said.

Kanyenga, together with her husband and children sought refuge at Mileme Primary School where they found their colleagues who had also been displaced by the floods.

UNFPA emergency SRH coordinator Eluby Maganga engages Fasileni in Phalombe

Unlike their campmates, the life of pregnant women at the overcrowded camp was never easy.

“We sleep in a congested tent and many of us to have coughs. There is no time to rest,” she says.

Having lost almost all her belongings, Kanyenga’s hope of safe delivery vanished. Although she was certain that her husband would take her on a bicycle to a health facility which is 10 kilometres away from the camp, her anxiety lingered.

Phalombe district safe motherhood coordinator Alex Kamanga is aware that due to floods, most pregnant women lost their birth preparedness kits, which include a basin and wrappers (Chitenje), among other items. Besides, nearby health facilities are overwhelmed by people seeking services.

“Due to the floods, health facilities close to camps have recorded an increase in the number of people seeking services, including pregnant women,” he says.

To ensure no maternal deaths occur in the middle of the humanitarian crisis caused by heavy rains, UNFPA Malawi distributed reproductive health kits to nine of the 15 districts affected by the floods.

The reproductive health packs include clean self-delivery kits and medicines for assisted delivery as well as management of unsafe abortion.

“We brought in the reproductive health kits to address preventable maternal and neonatal deaths and support clinical management of gender based violence,” says UNFPA Representative Won Young Hong. “Women and girls are more vulnerable in emergencies and their specific needs are often ignored in crises. They need services for safe pregnancy and childbirth as well as protection from gender violence. Securing their safety and ensuring their dignity and health promotes the well-being of families and communities”

UNFPA conducted orientation of the services providers on the use and placements of the kits during the distribution exercise

Phalombe Nursing Officer Joe Nkhonjera was not aware of the contents of the reproductive health kits before the training.

“Actually, this is my first time to see reproductive health kits and their contents, I find them very appropriate for outreach clinics and managing deliveries at every level of health care,” he says.

UNFPA also delivered the reproductive health kits to Chitekesa Health Centre where Kanyenga and her colleagues from Mileme camp will deliver their babies.


Flooding situation

President Peter Mutharika declared a state of disaster on March 8.

According to the recently launched national floods response plan, government has mobilised $25.6million for the flood response—leaving a shortfall of $19.6 million.

It is estimated that the floods affected 868 900 people and 217 224 of them are women of reproductive age and 56 650 adolescent girls.

According to UNFPA calculations, about 7 000 deliveries were expected to occur between from March and May.

This was expected to increase pressure on health facilities grappling with high disease burden and workload resulting from an influx of patients from camps and affected communities.

According to health workers the floods stretched limited resources for healthcare provision in affected districts.

“This depleted medical supplies, creating shortages,” said Kamanga.

Throughout the flood response period, one maternal death was reported in Nsanje district.n

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