21 June 2005

World Refugee Day: Celebrating 10 Years of Reproductive Health Care for Refugees

Pregnant Refugee Women Have Better Chance of Safe Child Delivery Than 10 Years Ago, Says UNFPA

NEW YORK, 20 June (UNFPA) -- Hajja was four months pregnant when she and her family were driven from their home by fighting in the Darfur region of the Sudan. After walking 55 kilometres through the hot desert, they reached the internal refugee camp at Kalma, where a women’s clinic provided the exhausted Hajja with urgent prenatal care to protect her health and that of her unborn child. Earlier this month, a midwife at the clinic helped Hajja to deliver a healthy baby girl. Hajja named the baby Hope.

The women’s clinic at Kalma consists of two doctors, four medical assistants and two midwives. The doctors treat up to 60 displaced women per day, with services ranging from family planning to prenatal and postnatal care to treatment for sexual violence, including HIV prevention.

Neglecting reproductive health in emergency situations can have serious consequences, including preventable maternal and infant deaths, unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

But according to the UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, reproductive health services like the ones offered in Kalma were rarely offered in displacement settings before the early 1990s.

In a statement to mark World Refugee Day on Monday, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid noted: “Just 10 years ago, there was little attention to the fact that women who become refugees continue to have babies, or are at increased risk of sexual violence or HIV infection.

“We have come a long way. We are seeing a growing awareness among humanitarian partners and donors that providing reproductive health care for refugees can be just as critical to their well-being as food, water and shelter. This is not an either-or-situation. We must provide both.”

An evaluation conducted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNFPA, Columbia University and other partners shows that reproductive health services for refugees have increased dramatically since the issue was first placed on the humanitarian agenda at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994. The Conference led to the formation of a powerful coalition of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations dedicated to improving reproductive health for refugees.

The joint evaluation shows that at least some components of reproductive health care are now available to most refugees in non-emergency settings. These services have become increasingly available in many acute emergency situations, as well, but requests for funding for such assistance are far less successful than requests for food and other, better-recognized humanitarian needs.

The study also found that people internally displaced within States, who outnumber international refugees by more than two to one, have the lowest access to reproductive health services. The mandates of agencies such as the UNHCR and the UNFPA have been expanded over the past decade to include these internally displaced persons. But difficulty of access, combined with lack of sufficient funding, means that many remain with limited reproductive health services or none at all.

Hajja was one of the lucky ones. Of the more than 1 million people who have been internally displaced within the Sudan since fighting broke out in Darfur in March 2003, many remain beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies. The UNFPA is working to improve services in internally displaced person settlements like the one at Kalma, and to extend them to as many displaced people as possible across Darfur.

“Today, a refugee woman has a far better chance of having a safe pregnancy than she did 10 years ago, or of preventing, or receiving treatment for, sexual violence or sexually transmitted infection”, said Ms. Obaid.

“We must continue to work together to extend these critical services to every displaced person everywhere.”

To read the full evaluation report, please visit http://www.rhrc.org/resources/iawg.

The UNFPA is the world’s largest multilateral source of population assistance. Since it became operational in 1969, the Fund has provided substantial assistance to developing countries, at their request, to address their population and development needs.

For more information, please contact: David del Vecchio, +1 (212) 297-4975, e-mail: delvecchio@unfpa.org; or Omar Gharzeddine, +1 (212) 297-5028, e-mail: Gharzeddine@unfpa.org.

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