Photo of the Week: Caring for mothers and newborns in emergency settings

After going into labour, a pregnant refugee is carried onto a boat for the 45-minute trip to a mobile health clinic in Betou. Photo: F. Noy/UNHCR 

In 2010, more than 100,000 Congolese refugees crossed the Oubangui River in search of safety in neighbouring Republic of the Congo since inter-ethnic violence erupted in their home areas in 2010. They fled from Equateur province in the north-west of Democratic Republic of the Congo after Enyele militiamen launched deadly assaults in October of that year on ethnic Munzayas over fishing and farming rights in the Dongo area. The majority of the displaced were camping in public buildings and some 100 sites along a 600-kilometre stretch of the Oubangui River, including with host communities. The massive influx stretched the meagre resources of the impoverished and remote region. The relief operation was logistically complex and expensive because the region could only be reached by plane or boat. However, few boats were available and most were in need of repair. 

Save the Children released its 15th annual State of the World’s Mothers report on Tuesday, highlighting the difficulty of providing care for pregnant women and newborns in emergency and conflict settings. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, pictured above, has not faired very well according to the report’s Mothers Index, ranking second from the bottom.

According to the report, "most deaths in the DR Congo have been due to preventable or treatable causes such as malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, newborn causes and malnutrition – and almost half the country’s death toll has been children under age 5. DR Congo exemplifies many of the challenges facing countries with high mortality burdens, which are also off track towards the Millennium Development Goals: it is a fragile state with a weak health infrastructure that leaves many without access to basic health care."

The report also called for several actions, which include:

  • Ensuring that every mother and newborn living in crisis has access to high quality health care;
  •  Invest much more in women and girls and ensure their protection;
  •  Build stronger institutions and promote early action, social protection, disaster risk reduction and strong health systems that provide universal health coverage and provide for the most vulnerable;
  •  Design emergency interventions with a longer-term view and the specific needs of mothers and newborns in mind;
  • Ensure political engagement and adequate financing, coordination and research around maternal and newborn health in crisis settings.

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