Pakistan: a mother worries what lies ahead

Monday, October 10, 2011

By Donna Fernandes

The stress of providing for a family in the wake of the Sindh floods is enormous. However, the the 120,000 women expecting to give birth soon will do so in the face of already high mother and baby mortality rates.

Thezu, 28, lost everything in the Sindh province floods – house, livestock and personal belongings. All she managed to salvage from the ruins were a few dishes. Worse, she lost her 22-year-old sister who drowned in the village water pond during the evacuation.

Her most pressing concern now is the impending birth of her sixth child. The onset of winter is worrying the mother-to-be, who will need baby food and supplies, as well as proper nutrition herself.  

"My mother-in-law is a midwife. She will assist in my delivery, but if there is going to be an emergency, I do not know what I will do," she says. With fewer doctors assisting with deliveries these days, three of Thezu's five children were delivered by her mother-in-law.

Each year in Pakistan, about 300 women die giving birth for every 100,000 live births. A staggering 63 babies die for every 1000 live births. No doubt remains: the fact that fewer doctors attend births contributes toward the mortality rate. It is coupled with lack of money, lack of women health workers and doctors, and that numerous health facilities have been ruined by floods. Thezu is among 120,000 expecting mothers in Sindh.

News is that her village - still under nearly 2.5m of water – is unrecognisable. "We think about our children and when will we go back. My husband, Mavo, is a primary school teacher, and these days he does not have a job because the school is destroyed." Thirty-two year old Mavo also grows wheat and chilli on two acres of land. He says this land no longer exists.

Without his monthly income of US $55 from teaching and with no food supply, Thezu and Mavo both know that the coming months will be very difficult. Living in a camp among 15 other families, the couple believes this will remain home for the next four months until waters recede. By then, they will have given birth to their child – a child whose survival remains subject to numerous risks.

Exposed to hunger and disease and to huge insecurity, families in Sindh need aid now. Expecting mothers need kits of materials to help with safe delivery and care of newborns, as well as materials for new mothers.

Humanitarian organisations including Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan, a member of ACT Alliance, are helping. In Mirpurkhas and Umerkot, two cities in Sindh, CWS-P/A will provide almost 2000 families with 600 metric tons of pulses, wheat flour, iodized salt, Cerelac baby food and cooking oil – packages to meet an average family's daily calorie, fat and protein needs. CWS-P/A will deliver mobile health services in four districts which depend on financial support from the international community. Without support now, women like Thezu and her unborn child risk falling victim to preventable diseases or death.