During conflict and other emergencies, women and girls, many of them pregnant or lactating mothers remain among the most severely affected groups. But for a visually-impaired mother with a new baby running to uncertainty, hope can only be restored when she realizes she is not alone after all.
LAMWO, Uganda: Forty-two year old Annet Night is visually impaired. She was due; expecting her fourth child when conflict broke out in her home village in Pajok, a community in Eastern Equatoria state of South Sudan.
She could not see, but she could hear the sound of death as the roaring gunfire and the loud screams of fright filled the air.
“There was shooting everywhere. I was very scared and heard that many people were being shot. I was only thinking about my unborn child,” she says.
Away from her husband who was working in Juba, Night felt vulnerable and frightened. With support from one of her daughters, the expectant mother started the escape journey 39 kilometres south of Magwi, near the border with Uganda.
The three-day rough journey ended at Ngoromoro border post where she was identified by a UNFPA partner, International Rescue Committee (IRC) who rushed her to the nearby Ngoromoro Health Centre II for a safe delivery.
After the baby was born, because of her condition, Night was referred to Padibe Health Center IV for better care for her and the baby who had developed an infection from the reception centre, according to Rose Mary Akello the midwife on duty.
On a neatly laid bed in the post-natal ward, there sat Night expressionless with her baby by her side fast asleep wrapped in a blue warm blanket. With the care provided at the health center, Night knows that her baby will soon be out of danger.
“I have named him Obedi; meaning ‘God protect my baby,” she said stretching her left hand out to feel her newborn baby lying next to her.
Night’s face lit up when the midwife announced the presence of the UNFPA emergency response. To restore her hope, Night was handed a ‘dignity kit’ that contained a bar of soap, a baby shawl, baby vest, underwear, a t-shirt, slippers, cotton wool and a bucket.
During emergencies, one in five women of childbearing age is likely to be pregnant. And Night’s is an example of how the impact of conflict and other disasters on reproductive health can be devastating particularly for women and young girls.
Dignity kits is a significant part of UNFPA’s support to pregnant women in the humanitarian response. For Lamwo district, 300 kits were dispatched to support women deliver safely amidst the crisis.
The recent outbreak of fighting in South Sudan has triggered massive displacement and influx of refugees in to Uganda. During the recent crisis that saw over 3,000 people fleeing into Lamwo district in Uganda, 11 mothers were identified to have delivered in the emergency, two of them on the way, one in the transit centre while the rest from Ngoromoro Health Centre II.
Without access to reproductive health services, pregnant women face an increased risk of life-threatening complications. Those on family planning often lose access, exposing them to unwanted pregnancies in perilous conditions. Women and young people also become more vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and HIV infection.
Besides, the hygiene needs of women and girls are often neglected. UNFPA Uganda provides specific interventions in Reproductive Health including HIV response as well as gender-based violence prevention and response in crises for women, adolescents, and response in crises for women, adolescents, and youth.
Story and pictures by Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi