PAKISTAN – Preventing violence and poor maternal outcomes during current floods

by Sarmad Muhammad Soomar, Abir Arefin, Salman Muhammad Soomar

Journal of Global Health, 20 January 2023

During the ongoing floods in Pakistan, women’s vulnerability to violence and poor maternal outcomes reached an all-time high. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), over 6,000,000 women are expecting their pregnancies and around 70,000 of them are expected to go into labor in the upcoming months. Reports routinely warned that health services did not have adequate equipment and teams to perform these deliveries safely. These issues were exacerbated during the floods, as more financial support was needed, as well as a safe environment to relocate pregnant women and support them with quality maternal care. Governmental observations point out that around 1,000 essential family health service centers have been negatively affected by the floods, many of them completely ruined. Relocating women in such conditions is a risky intervention, making it a last resort. These issues, potentiated by crises and floods, require additional attention.

Healthcare providers report that if these deliveries are not conducted in a timely and safe manner, women’s lives and their children’s health may be in danger. Tents, internally displaced camps, or schools are not safe places for pregnant women to deliver their babies, or even to stay for a period of time. Many of the women are young, either pregnant or displaced with female family members like sisters, mothers, in-laws, or grandmothers. Another vulnerability is access to transportation during floods, which can help them reach camps or even health facilities.

Women are reported to be at a higher risk of violence from the people surrounding them due to internal displacement as a result of the floods. A local newspaper reported rape and abuse of women and girls asking truck or rickshaw drivers during the flood crisis for transportation so they could reach their destination for care or safety. The health and safety of women in Pakistan was already a significant issue; this humanitarian crisis has increased their risk 4-fold. Proper research should be carried out to document and report incidents related to maternal health and violence against women during the current floods and the humanitarian crisis. This should also include research on how women’s health and safety should be assured during this time and future crises.

PHOTO by Hamdan Khan/AP, August 2022. See 25 more in: The Atlantic, 29 August 2022.