The Impact on Maternal Health in the Horn of Africa
Across the eastern Horn of Africa, more than 11.6 million people are in need of emergency assistance to survive. The region is experiencing the worst drought in more than 60 years which has lead to cropfailure, the death of livestock and a surge in food prices. Millions of people in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and particularly in Somalia are affected.
Last week, the United Nations declared famine in two regions of Somalia. As a result of the increasingly dire situation, more than 600,000 Somalis have fled to neighboring countries, a journey that can take on average 25 days and covers hundreds of miles to reach refugee camps and food and water. Reports indicate that nearly half of the children arriving at the refugee camps areacutely malnourished. Additionally, for those unable to make it to the refugee camps or arrive at camps that are at capacity, the outlying areas are also under extreme pressure to house severely malnourished populations.
These stories and statistics are well documented as we focus on this emergency and evaluate ways not just to stem the current crisis but hopefully to think through ways to invest that deter these crises in the future as well. But this isn't an equal opportunity crisis-as with most such situations, women and girls face particular vulnerabilities in refugee situations and are already hailing from regions with extremely high maternal mortality rates and limited access to care. In addition to the expected health risks among displaced populations escaping famine, including malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies, limited or no access to safe water and sanitation presents additional health challenges including infectious disease outbreaks such as diarrhea, acute respiratory infections and vaccine preventable diseases such as measles.
Before the famine, the lifetime risk of maternal death in Somalia was 1 in 14. In Ethiopia, the risk is 1 in 40 and in Kenya, 1 in 38 mothers will die. These statistics highlight the limited access to maternal health services and the severe situation women face in these countries which will only be exacerbated by the famine.
Displacement can have a tremendous impact on the reproductive health of women including a disruption of basic services including family planning, the absence of skilled birth attendants, limited or no access to basic and comprehensive emergencyobstetric care (EmOC), extreme poverty, sexual violence and lack of social support systems. Additionally, malnutrition and stress can severely endanger pregnant women, lactating women as well as their children’s livelihood.
Multiple partners of Every Mother Counts, including CARE and Save the Children, have launched a major humanitarian response throughout the region. Visit InterAction’s website for more information about groups providing relief to this hard hit region and how you can help.
Photo Credit: Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF): Brendan Bannon
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