The United Nations health agency is working with national authorities to ensure safe childbirth services in the coming weeks to an estimated 40,000 pregnant women left homeless as a result of the Indian Ocean tsunami in South Asia.
“We need to provide skilled care to these 40,000 mothers-to-be, and pay special attention to the thousands of new lives coming into the world in the coming weeks,” World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Family and Community Health Joy Phumaphi said.
“We must do everything we can to save the health and future of the affected communities. Timely access to health facilities and services for mothers and babies must be a priority,” she added of the programme directed principally to Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
The Director for WHO’s Southeast Asia Region, Samlee Plianbangchang, noted that in a disaster where entire families and neighbourhoods have been lost, mothers, newborns and young children are the most vulnerable.
“Even under normal circumstances, maternal and child health is a matter of major concern in the Region,” he said. “Maternal deaths in this region account for one third of the total number of global deaths and over 3 million children die below the age of 5 in this region annually, mostly from preventable causes. The tsunami has further added to the pressure.”
WHO, in its role as technical coordinator for all health assistance in affected countries, has stressed the need for every camp to have a pregnancy and childbirth care site that provides antenatal, childbirth, postpartum and newborn care. It addresses special food needs, including nutritional enhancement and support for mothers to exclusively breastfeed newborns.
For young children, WHO is emphasizing the need for providing treatment for diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition. Simplified guidelines for integrated management of common childhood illnesses have also been disseminated to countries for their use.