Pakistani women testify to childbirth suffering during floods
Pakistani women bear the brunt of the floods during some of the most crucial times in their lives.
Pregnant women and women who've given birth during the climate tragedy which is destroying Pakistan testify to the pain, struggle and suffering they have endured during the floods which have sunken a third of the country under murky waters. The Guardian has interviewed a number of women from Balochistan and Sindh, which are areas highly affected by the climate disaster.
Naseeba Ameerullah, 23, walked for an hour in labor pains, crying and vomiting, in search of an ambulance. Upon finding one, she had to beg the driver to take her, as the floods have obstructed roadways, making a two-hour drive to Quetta a painstaking 12-hour one.
“When I finally reached the hospital, the doctors said I would not survive if they didn’t operate immediately," said Ameerullah, as she struggled to articulate her words. The labor has some complications, in addition to the mother experiencing severe high blood pressure. With the difficulties endured, the doctors informed Ameerullah that her baby had to be incubated.
“I gave birth to a baby boy two days ago but the doctors told us that the baby requires to be incubated but there were no incubators available so we had to take my baby to my mother’s place. I haven’t seen my baby yet,” she said.
Ameerullah is one of the thousands of women bearing the worst conditions of the flood, and in need of maternal services.
According to the UNFPA, 73,000 women in need of skilled birth attendants and support are expected to give birth in the month of September. The UN body also predicts that around 650,000 pregnant women in flood-affected areas will be needing maternal health services to maintain childbirth safety.
However, in addition to the damaged infrastructure, healthcare facilities have been rendered ineffective due to the destruction they've sustained. According to the World Health Organization, over 1,460 health facilities are affected, with 432 fully damaged and 1,024 partially damaged. Access to healthcare professionals is also limited at this current time, making healthcare difficult.
In another case, Rubina, an eight-month pregnant woman, is living in a tent on the side of the road in Jaffarabad. Rubina explains that she is experiencing complications which included body aches and anemia.
Medications are not available to ameliorate her conditions, and nor are they affordable to be bought from private hospitals.
“My husband and brother did whatever was possible in their capacity. They have lost their source of earnings and cannot provide us with anything else and the government hospital in Jaffarabad has nothing,” said Rubina.
Haseena, another pregnant woman, who lives in a tent close by to Rubina, is also suffering anemia and is in need of a blood transfusion.
“We don’t get any medicine here and food so how can we expect to get blood transfusions? We drink water from the rivers where animals are dead,” she said.
The sanitation situation which results from living on the street is also a serious issue, among the many others mentioned. There are no toilets, which goes without saying, in the tents: “This is a tragedy which we can’t even talk about,” Haseena said.
A woman who had given birth a month ago in Larkana, Roshan, noted: “Everyone is falling sick here. I feel faint and have constant headaches. Our children do not have clothes. There is only one piece of cloth for my newborn that I wash every day to use again.”
WHO: Pakistan at risk of major disease outbreak following floods
Earlier this month, top UN chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the classification of the situation in the country as a grade three emergency, which is the highest level of emergency in the UN book - especially as risks of disease outbreaks skyrocket.
The floods aren't only killing people, they're also triggering disease outbreaks, including acute water diarrhea, dengue fever, malaria, polio and even COVID-19. Most of these cases come where water and sanitation facilities have been damaged.
“WHO is working with health authorities to respond quickly and effectively on the ground. Our key priorities now are to ensure rapid access to essential health services to the flood-affected population strengthen and expand disease surveillance, outbreak prevention and control, and ensure robust health cluster coordination,” said Dr. Palitha Mahipala, WHO Representative in Pakistan.
Islamabad, responding to the emergency, established control rooms and medical camps over the country, in addition to organizing air evacuation operations, and conducting health awareness sessions on waterborne and vector-borne diseases, among other steps.
Global warming was leading the glaciers in mountainous northern regions to melt faster than usual, aggravating the impact of heavy rain, according to Pakistan senator and federal minister for climate change, Sherry Rehman. 7,532 is the number of glaciers Pakistan has, a number that is bigger than anywhere outside the polar regions. This is leading Pakistan to be one of the countries most exposed to climate change-related weather extremes.