Pakistani pregnant women face death amid record floods

Eight months pregnant, Naseeba Ameerulla nearly died while walking in pain looking for an ambulance and took 12 hours to get to the hospital due to flooding.

When Naseeba Ameerullah, 23, found an ambulance, she had to beg the driver to take her to the hospital. Flooding severely damaged Pakistani roads and blocked roads, making the time to the provincial capital Quetta usually only two hours, now up to half a day.

She left her flood-ravaged hometown in Naseerabad district, Balochistan province in the morning but did not arrive until nightfall.

Naseeba Ameerullah in a hospital in Quetta.  Photo: Guardian

Naseeba Ameerullah in a hospital in Quetta. Image: Guardian

“The whole time I didn’t know what was going on,” Ameerullah said. “When I got to the hospital, the doctor told me I wouldn’t live without immediate surgery.”

Complications related to labor, including high blood pressure, prompted the doctor to immediately deliver a C-section for Ameerullah.

“I gave birth to my son two days ago. The doctor said the baby needed to be in an incubator, but the hospital didn’t have a cage so we had to take him to his grandmother. I still haven’t been able to see his face,” she said.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Ameerullah is one of thousands of pregnant women who are affected by the most severe floods in Pakistan’s history and are in dire need of medical care.

Many women who are pregnant or have given birth in Balochistan and Sindh, the two worst-affected provinces, say they do not receive medical care and do not have clean food and water.

The historic flood has engulfed a third of Pakistan, killing at least 1,400 people and affecting more than 33 million. Floods washed away bridges, livestock and even people.

UNFPA says 73,000 Pakistani women are due to give birth this month. It is estimated that nearly 650,000 pregnant women in flood-affected areas need access to health services to ensure a safe pregnancy and childbirth. Floods also pose many other health hazards such as increased morbidity in children.

Many people set up tents or camps along the road from Larkana to Dadu districts in Sindh province, Jaffarabad and Naseerabad districts in Balochistan, as their houses were swept away by floods.

Across Pakistan, more than 1,460 medical facilities were completely or partially damaged. People in this country have limited access to medical facilities, doctors, as well as medicines and essential supplies, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Rubina, an eight-month pregnant woman who lives in a roadside hut in Jaffarabad, said she suffered from pregnancy ailments such as body aches and anemia. The medicine prescribed by the doctor was not available for sale, nor could she buy it from a private hospital.

“My husband and brother did everything they could. They lost their source of income, couldn’t provide us with anything else, and the public hospital in Jaffarabad was also out of supplies,” Rubina said.

Cattle and people live in makeshift roadside huts in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan province.  Photo: Guardian

Cattle and people live in makeshift roadside huts in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan province. Image: Guardian

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Lehri, medical director of Bolan Hospital in Quetta, said that pregnant women in many districts of Balochistan province suffer from nutritional deficiencies. The situation will be worse because of the flood.

“If the government doesn’t act, this situation will turn into a major crisis,” Lehri said. “We are seeing a lot of emotional trauma and damage caused by floods to women.”

Hassena, another pregnant woman living in a tent near Rubina, said she needed a blood transfusion because she was anemic. “We have no medicine, no food, how can we expect a blood transfusion? We drink water from a river full of dead animals,” she said.

Thousands of men and women live in makeshift tents without toilets. “This is a tragedy that we can’t talk about,” Haseena said.

Dr Imran Baloch, medical supervisor in Jaffarabad, said that many women give birth in cars, by the roadside, some give birth on the way to the hospital because travel is difficult due to floods.

“A woman gave birth on the walk to the hospital. Many people couldn’t even go to the hospital and had to call the midwife. We’re doing the best we can,” he said.

The situation in Sindh is similar to that of Balochistan. Durnaz Soz Ali, 22, evacuates after his house was submerged by flood water in Qambar Shahdadkot, Sindh province.

Ali, who is living in a school in Larkana with hundreds of other evacuees. “Even though I’m 9 months pregnant, I still have to carry my stuff, walk for hours,” she said.

Ali gave birth to a daughter and named her Shamma, which means light. “Sometimes we get food, but not always. I can’t breastfeed because I’m too weak,” she said.

Durnaz Soz Ali holds his newborn daughter Shamma.  Photo: Guardian

Durnaz Soz Ali holds his newborn daughter Shamma. Image: Guardian

Roshan, another woman from Qambar Shahdadkot, who gave birth a month ago in Larkana, said “everyone fell ill”. “I feel very tired, have a headache that doesn’t stop. Children have no clothes. I only have one piece of cloth to wrap my baby and have to wash it again and again to use it every day,” she said.

UNFPA warns many women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence as nearly a million homes were destroyed in the catastrophic floods.

“There’s no greater pain than leaving my home. I’m about to give birth, but I’m homeless,” said Samina, a pregnant woman who was evacuated with thousands of others in Larkana.

Hong Hanh (Theo Guardian)

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