By Akanimo Sampson
Cyclone Idai has left not less than 75,000 pregnant women caught up in its aftermath with one in 10 at risk of serious complications that will require skilled delivery care if mother and baby are to survive.
Since the storm struck Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe on March 14, their lives hang in the balance. The storm’s high winds and torrential rains caused severe flooding, destroyed infrastructure, forced families from their homes, killed hundreds of people, and cut off access to health care.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is on the ground providing life-saving supplies to ensure clean deliveries and offering skilled midwifery care, so that mothers and newborns can have the safe birth that is their right.
They are also delivering supplies and services to make sure that all affected women and girls can maintain their health, safety and dignity, even in the wake of disaster.
At the moment, UNFPA is appealing for generous gift to enable them to provide clean delivery kits that help prevent infection during childbirth; dignity kits containing essential health and hygiene supplies for women and girls; and medical kits to save the lives of mothers and newborns when delivery complications mean that surgery, resuscitation or intravenous treatment is needed.
The devastating Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique then crossed into Zimbabwe, leaving a wide path of destruction across Eastern Africa. By the time the storm struck, communities throughoutMalawi and Mozambique were already reeling from days of fatal downpours and flooding.
UNFPA’s Humanitarian partners are describing the damage as “massive and horrifying.”
Hundreds are dead or missing in each of the three affected countries. In total, over a million people have been affected. With United Nations partners, UNFPA conducted an assessment mission, and is working to rapidly deploy emergency reproductive health services and supplies. In Matundo, Mozambique, 30-year-old Tina Patissone was in the late stages of pregnancy when flooding reached her home just before midnight on March 15. She and her four children evacuated, braving the roaring winds to reach the shelter of a local school.
Within hours, she felt the onset of contractions. But no one at the shelter could summon an ambulance; the mobile networks were down.
They did the next best thing: They arranged for a motorcycle taxi to take her to the Matundo Health Centre. There, she very quickly delivered a healthy baby girl, Joana Antonio.
The impact of the storm has been catastrophic. Flash floods and landslides have washed away homes, health facilities, bridges and schools.
In Malawi, rainy season floods had already prompted the president to declare a state of disaster earlier this month. In response, UNFPA prepositioned emergency supplies to support flood-affected communities.
The humanitarian situation was greatly exacerbated when the Idai storm system tore through the country. It is estimated that nearly half a million women – including over 20,000 pregnant women – have been affected.
In Zimbabwe, lingering heavy rains continued after the cyclone had passed, slowing access to hard-hit areas and exacerbating damage. Tens of thousands have been affected. The president has declared two days of national mourning.
In Mozambique, the official death toll is over 400, and is expected to rise. More than 600,000 people are affected, including 74,000 pregnant women.
UNFPA is working with partner organisations and with governments to provide urgent relief in the form of health services and supplies. In Mozambique alone, UNFPA is helping to support 19 mobile clinics in hard-to-reach areas, and providing enough reproductive health kits to meet the needs of more than 300,000 people.
UNFPA is also distributing dignity kits, which contain essential hygiene supplies, including soap, toothpaste, underwear, laundry soap, sanitary napkins and a safety whistle.
In many areas, residents are crowded into makeshift shelters, with poor lighting and little or no separation between families. These conditions could increase residents’ vulnerability to assault. UNFPA is working to prevent gender-based violence and provide services to violence survivors.
In Mozambique, UNFPA is helping to provide 10 women-friendly safe spaces to the support case management for survivors of violence. And in Malawi, UNFPA is working with partner non-governmental organisations to distribute information about gender-based violence, human rights and support services for survivors.
In Matundo, Ms. Patissone received a dignity kit with supplies to assist her in the post-partum period.
“It would be good if these were made available not only in times of crisis but in good times as well,” she said. “Being clean and taking care of oneself is important for women and even more so for a newborn baby.”
After delivering baby Joana, Ms. Patissone discovered that her home was destroyed.
She and her family are now staying with friends, but they are concerned about overstaying their welcome.
They hope to get a tent and begin rebuilding their home, ideally in an area less prone to flooding, said her husband, Antonio Nestala Ntundo.