UN provides medical help for pregnant women amid Mongolia’s harsh winter

3 March 2010

Severe winter conditions in Mongolia are preventing expectant mothers from reaching health facilities, requiring the United Nations to bring medical help closer to them.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in coordination with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), has been supporting life-saving mobile medical teams and local district hospitals by providing medicines, equipment and supplies to the hardest-hit western section of the Central Asian country.

“The needs of pregnant women and newborns cannot wait until normal times. That is why mobile teams are needed to reach them where they are,” said Argentina Matavel, UNFPA Representative in Mongolia.

A team in the western Khovd province rescued a herder last week who had gone into labour in her tent unable to reach the nearest hospital, some 30 kilometres away, due to heavy snow.

In addition to supporting mobile teams, UNFPA also provided reproductive health and hygiene supplies to 6,000 women and their families in some of the hardest-hit provinces and midwifery kits to 80 local hospitals.

A drought last summer, followed by heavy winter snow, has created a multiple natural disaster that the Mongolians call a “dzud.”

Heavy snow and temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius have closed roads and impaired travel. Two and a half million livestock have died of starvation, threatening the livelihoods of many nomadic herder families.

UNFPA is working with the Ministry of Health to prepare for longer-term recovery. It has received $242,000 from the UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to conduct recovery efforts.

Other UN agencies have also been assisting the humanitarian effort, including UNICEF, which this week airlifted emergency supplies to thousands of children living in rural areas, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which has devised a cash-for-work project under which herders will clear and bury the carcasses of the over 2 million livestock that have perished nationwide, thereby boosting their income and reducing public health risks.

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As temperatures in western Mongolia continue to hover around -40 degrees Celsius, the United Nations is sending woolen blankets, warm footwear, hygiene kits and other emergency supplies to nearly 4,000 school-age children living in poor rural areas of the country.