News / Asia

Pakistan Floods Putting Thousands of Pregnant Women at Risk

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Ira Mellman

The floods that inundated many parts of Pakistan have left many of the most vulnerable parts of the population at great risk. They are the unborn, the newly born and their mothers.

The numbers are staggering. Of the 18 million people affected by the floodwaters, an estimated 70 percent of them are women and children.

The World Health Organization estimates that half a million Pakistani women caught by the flooding will give birth over the next six months, and about 32,000 of them will experience complications.

Health authorities say thousands of expectant mothers are at risk. Many have been marooned by the flood waters and cut off from urgently needed medical care.

Shama Mai is living with her family in a camp in Mahmood Kot. She is surviving on a daily handful of boiled rice and grains.

Thousands of flies swarm the sweat-soaked women, most of who haven’t bathed in a month because there is no water, toilet or privacy.

Some have been forced to deliver in tents on their own, using dirty water without even a towel or blanket to clean and wrap their newborns.

Mai says she’s pregnant and doesn't know where she’ll deliver her baby. “I’m sleeping on a bed on the roadside, no one is helping us. She says “if someone can help us, please, for God’s sake, help us,” she pleads.

Sughra Ramzan was eight months pregnant with her seventh child when the Indus River began to swallow up the land. She slogged through snake-infested waters on foot and by boat to reach a doctor.

She says “It was very difficult to come here but finally I reached the hospital and the doctor could check me. First I could find some transport but then I had to walk through flood water and then finally got a boat.”

She was given an ultrasound, some medicine and told to come back in five days.

Ramzan said she felt better after returning to her village. So she stayed at home instead trying again to make the 40-kilometre journey on foot, boat and bus for a check-up.

But last week Ramzan experienced pains.

Her husband, brother and sister-in-law took turns helping to lead and carry her through four kilometers of muddy water littered with decaying animal carcasses.

She then boarded a boat and took six buses before finally reaching the hospital.

By the time the doctors arrived, Ramzan’s baby had died.

Zahida Khan who runs the 14-person Pakistan Human Development Foundation, an organization that's helping pregnant women and babies left homeless by the floods says "Especially females are in a very miserable situation because they need food, they need security, they need medicines because they are pregnant and you know they need very good food in this situation and milk and iron and calcium."

Even before the floods, about 80 percent of Pakistani women delivered their babies at home, often on the dirt floors.

Death rates in childbirth are high, at 276 per 100,000 compared to 11 per 100,000 in the United States.

One in 20 Pakistani babies don’t live through their first month, and doctors fear that number will now soar.

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