Ethiopia: Worst drought in 40 years threatens progress in maternal and newborn health (UNFPA)

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The 24-year-old mother was recovering from a life-saving cesarean delivery at the general hospital in Gode, a town in the Somali region of Ethiopia, which has been one of the hardest hit by the worst drought in four decades, says UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, in a report.

Ms. Abadi currently lives with her seven children in an informal settlement in the Shabelle area, along with her mother, Ms. Barkhado, and other drought-displaced people.

Ms Barkhado has been through many crises in her 60s, but this one is the most devastating for her.

“Of all the droughts I have experienced in my life, this is the worst in 40 years. This year there is no water or pasture wherever you go. I don’t know how we are going to survive,” she said.

Climate shocks and extreme weather are driving humanitarian needs across the Horn of Africa and placing unbearable pressure on already struggling health systems with limited facilities, heavily used and almost non-existent infrastructure.

A climate crisis that weighs most heavily on the health of women and girls

Progress made in reducing maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity in Ethiopia is at risk of being derailed and there is an urgent need to expand coverage of maternal health and protection services to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls .

“We have noticed an increase in maternal and neonatal deaths over the past few months. Almost all of our cases are women who have traveled up to 200 kilometers to reach the facility, many of them suffering from labor-related complications and having no means of transport,” said the Medical Director of the Gode ​​General Hospital, Dr Mahamed Sheh.

In eastern and southern Ethiopia, seasonal rains failed for the third time since the end of 2020, fueling massive population displacements and worsening an already dire humanitarian situation.

Nearly 8 million people have been affected and more than 286,000 Ethiopian Somalis, including Ms. Abadi, have been displaced, fleeing their homes to survive as crops, livestock and livelihoods are wiped out.

With the number of livestock deaths reaching a staggering 1.4 million and increasing day by day, Ms Abadi’s only source of income evaporated as fast as her hope.

“We lost everything we had – 30 goats and 10 cattle,” Ms Abadi said. “We only have one cow left that is barely standing. She is too weak to walk.

With no more animals to help them survive, Ms. Abadi fears for her family’s future.

Women and girls on the move are at heightened risk of sexual and physical violence and coercion, and child marriages and forced marriages increase during humanitarian crises as households lose their livelihoods and protective mechanisms. are shrinking.

The exhausting journey to access maternal and reproductive health services

In the Somali region, some 930,000 people need emergency and reproductive health assistance and more than 565,000 people are believed to have reduced access to protection services, including women, children and survivors gender-based violence.

According to the Ethiopian Institute of Public Health, more than 60% of people living in the Somali region are more than an hour’s walk from the nearest health center – which may or may not work if they manage to get there. ‘reach.

More than 154,000 women are currently pregnant in the Somali region and in the next month alone, an estimated 2,568 women and 3,425 newborn babies will experience life-threatening complications if skilled care and services are not available. .

“Displaced mothers arrive with complications and leave in the same condition. We don’t have maternity wards and we can’t keep them here for a month waiting in the delivery room or in the hallway. When they come back, it’s sometimes too late,” says Aston Ma’am, a midwife at the hospital.

Although Mrs. Abadi and her family have suffered huge losses, she is grateful that all her children are doing well at the moment and she looks forward to the day when she will be able to tend to her livestock again.

After being discharged from Gode Hospital on arrival due to complications as there was no maternity ward, she was lucky to arrive in time to undergo the life-saving C-section. . Many women endure grueling journeys of hundreds of miles, but arrive too late to be rescued.

Leave no mother or newborn behind

With the support of Irish Aid and in partnership with UNICEF, UNFPA is scaling up its response in the Somali region through a two-year package of essential health services, including supporting essential maternity clinics to help women like Ms. Abadi.

Mobile health units staffed by trained midwives will also be deployed in some of the hardest to reach areas, and eight health facilities in Shabelle and Erer areas will receive emergency obstetric equipment and supplies.

At the same time, safe spaces and one-stop centers will ensure comprehensive medical and psychosocial support for survivors of gender-based violence, as well as reproductive health medicines, dignity kits containing sanitary and hygiene items, as well as ambulances will be provided. distributed to health centers in the region.

As of March 2022, 32 frontline health care providers in 14 UNFPA-supported facilities in Somali region had been trained in post-abortion care, in partnership with the Regional Health Office, with the aim of reducing maternal mortality rates.

Around 250 women of childbearing age also participated in community outreach sessions, which aim to raise awareness of how to prevent gender-based violence and the services and support available, in partnership with the Regional Office for Women’s Affairs. , children and young people.

UNFPA’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Appeal requests nearly $24 million to strengthen the health system and rebuild the capacity of maternal and reproductive health services in the Somali region and seven other crisis-affected regions of the country . To date, just over half of the appeal has been funded.

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