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Pregnant and Vulnerable: Meeting the Needs of Women in Haiti

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The following article was written by Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

When crisis strikes, women continue to get pregnant and give birth, and they may face rising violence. Humanitarian aid to protect their sexual and reproductive health is urgently needed.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti had the highest maternal mortality rate in the Western hemisphere. Now with the shattered healthcare system, the risks are even higher.

Among the 3 million people affected by the earthquake in Haiti, an estimated 63,000 are pregnant women, and 7,000 of them are expected to deliver in the coming month. Women are giving birth in the streets unattended and even those who make it to maternity wards, some of which are open-air, face a shortage of doctors, nurses and medical supplies.

While we have all heard about the horrible injuries that survivors are suffering from, one of the less visible issues that doctors and relief workers on the ground are dealing with is complicated births. Research shows that 15% of all pregnancies will result in complications that require medical care. One of UNFPA's top priorities is saving the lives of women and newborns.

UNFPA's frontline staff in Haiti and the Dominican Republic have been working around the clock to deliver emergency reproductive health supplies and essential drugs to provide life-saving services to pregnant women.

Basic hygiene supplies are being delivered to women and girls so they can live with a semblance of dignity amidst the crisis. And we are coordinating the UN response to gender-based violence.

In a country with high rates of gender-based violence, risks have increased for women and girls after the earthquake. With police, health and social services disrupted, there is rising vulnerability to exploitation, trafficking and abuse.

It is important to prioritize the safety of women and girls in any humanitarian response. This is a lesson that we have learned from past experiences, including the 2004 tsunami.

UNFPA has requested $4.5 million to address the special needs of women, girls and other vulnerable populations in Haiti for the next six months. We are grateful for the contributions that we have received from donors such as Brazil, Denmark, Norway, Spain and the United Nations Foundation and for the expressions of pending support from other nations.

The crisis in Haiti has generated an unprecedented global response that speaks volumes about people's compassion and willingness to help.

This is encouraging. But crisis or not, women continue to need increased support. Every minute one woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth and gender-based violence is widespread.

In Haiti and everywhere, protecting the health and rights of women is an essential part of building strong families, communities and nations.

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