ONGOING instability in Sudan’s West Darfur region has left the lives, health and safety of thousands of women hanging in the balance, according to the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA.
Since 28 December, intercommunal disputes in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) have left more than 40,000 civilians displaced, of whom an estimated 10,800, are women of reproductive age.
More than 50 were killed and 60 others injured, the UN has reported, and thousands of civilians in recent weeks crossed the border into Chad, seeking refuge.
Citing two flash reports this year, the UN agency shone a light on a serious lack of adequate reproductive health services and protection.
“Following the recent attack on the camps in West Darfur, women had to flee leaving behind their burnt houses and all of their personal belongings”, explained Massimo Diana, UNFPA Representative in Sudan. “The attack has left them traumatized and in need of psychological support”.
Moreover, as they have no private shelter, the women “continue to feel unsafe and are very vulnerable towards violence and harassment”, he added.
Immediate action needed
Based on data from the Ministry of Health and Social Development, there are an estimated 3,442 pregnant women in dire need of adequate reproductive health services – some 700 women of whom are in their ninth month of pregnancy, living in 41 different IDP sites.
Some 373 deliveries took place in the past 10 days alone. UNFPA stressed that immediate action is needed to save lives and ensure women’s health and safety.
“The unavailability of obstetric services for pregnant women and the lack of access to safe delivery is the reason for loss of lives both for mothers and newborns,” maintained Mr. Diana. “Overcrowding at hospitals during instability is common and in the case of current events in West Darfur means that women are delivering babies in shared rooms or open squares.”
While an estimated 160 midwives have been deployed, the availability of safe delivery facilities remains inadequate, leaving women to give birth in makeshift spaces, including classrooms in the presence of other women and children.
UN steps up assistance
UNFPA is supporting the State Ministry of Health and other partners in establishing sexual and reproductive health clinics in 31 IDP sites, which will include the services of 60 midwives.
The UN agency has also shipped 31 different emergency reproductive health kits from Khartoum to El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, to cover the needs of pregnant women.
Having no access to emergency obstetric care leads to an increase in maternal and neonatal deaths — UNFPA
“Having no access to emergency obstetric care leads to an increase in maternal and neonatal deaths so this is a life-saving intervention,” pointed out Mr. Diana.
Credible information, including from rapid assessments, also indicates that amidst rising displacement, gender-based violence (GBV) is being perpetrated on a large scale and in different forms, especially for women and girls.
The Population Fund noted that a team of GBV and reproductive health coordinators were deployed to El Geneina and emergency reproductive health kits were dispatched to support the humanitarian response.
Moreover, prevention and response efforts are being strengthened, including by coordinating and providing psychosocial support and other services.
“Gender-based violence…is one of the most pervasive human-rights abuses in the world,” the UNFPA Representative spelled out. “Both priorities must always be treated with immediate attention – regardless of whether it is an emergency or not.”