Thursday, July 09, 2009

New mothers, new refugees

The violence in Pakistan has created a health emergency for pregnant and new mothers within refugee camps in the country. 69,000 pregnant women have been forced out of northwest Pakistan since the fighting began in April. Doctors within the refugee camps say the new mothers face severe health and nutrition problems.

From the IPS, Ashfaq Yusufzai reports on the displaced mothers.

"Our doctors had examined about 191 newborn children of whom 144 were underweight and 125 severely malnourished," says Dr Abdul Hameed, PPA president. There is severe overcrowding, he confirms. Two or three children can be admitted on each bed. Neither are there labour rooms to handle delivery-related complications, he adds.

"The situation could slip out of control if immediate measures regarding strengthening of childcare in the camps aren't initiated," he told IPS.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, who is on a visit to Pakistan, is reported saying, "We still need to do more to help (internally displaced) people both now and in the coming months." Holmes who has visited refugees in camps in Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi, has traveled to Buner district, Thursday.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, has described the massive displacement of Pakistani civilians because of the escalating fighting between Pakistani forces and Taliban militants as "the most challenging protection crisis since Rwanda [in the mid-1990s]."

"My son has severe diarrhoea. There is no improvement. He is pale, and not responding to breastfeeding," Jamala Bibi of Buner in the Shah Mansoor camp, Swabi, told this reporter on May 20.

Pakistan has a population of 160.9 million, which is growing at a rate of 1.8 percent. According to observers, the country is unlikely to meet goal 4 and 5 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which calls for reducing child mortality and improving maternal health respectively, by 15 to 50 percent by 2015.

Every family in the Malakand region has at least five or more children. The conservative Islamic groups allied to the Taliban, who made Dir, Swat and Buner their stronghold two years ago, targeted non governmental organisations (NGOs) working with the community on reproductive health goals. Their field workers were kidnapped and the NGOs threatened with dire consequences if they did not pull out of these districts.

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