Pregnant women face terrifying choices as Syria health service collapses

25/03/2013

Heavily pregnant women are fleeing Syria or being forced to pay for expensive caesarean sections because it has become too risky for many to give birth naturally in the country, DEC agencies have warned.
 
The number of caesarean births has nearly doubled in parts of Syria since the beginning of the conflict as women seek to deliver during quiet periods in the fighting. In governorates such as Al Raqqa, c-section deliveries have increased from 26%–28% prior to the unrest, to almost 45% of all deliveries. Such operations can cost almost £100 and if carried out without proper training can increase the risk to mother and baby.
 
The devastating effect of the conflict on maternal health has been revealed by DEC member agencies Save the Children and Merlin, which say that pregnant women are risking their lives to flee to neighbouring countries, with some going into labour on the journey.
 
Save the Children has spoken to women who were forced to give birth under intense bombardment, and has received reports of mothers suffering miscarriages because they were unable to reach medical care.
 
DEC Chief Executive Saleh Saeed said:
 
“Pregnant women and new mothers are being put in appalling danger by this conflict. Those who decide to flee risk being shot at or detained as they try to escape, while those who stay behind are being forced to give birth under fire without proper medical support. The healthcare system inside Syria has collapsed in many areas, and with it, the opportunity for babies to be born in safety has disappeared.”
 
Many women would rather make dangerous attempts to escape Syria than risk the lives of their newborns by giving birth inside the country. They arrive in surrounding countries highly stressed and poorly nourished after their difficult journeys. One survey carried out by Save the Children in Jordan’s Zaatari camp found that 35% of pregnant and lactating women were anaemic due to poor nutrition.
 
Rasha, now living in Zaatari with her husband Ali and newborn daughter Sondos, fled Syria two weeks ago when she realised that there was no chance of medical support for her birth. She went into labour on the border, and Sondos was born hours after arriving in the camp. “The journey was very hard,” Rasha said. “We were expecting to be shot at the whole way. I went into labour because the road was very bad. I remember it was very cold and I was very afraid.”
 
Save the Children and other DEC agencies are on the ground in Syria and its surrounding countries doing all they can to support pregnant women and those with new born children. Save the Children is distributing kits to help care for newborn babies, offering support and advice to new mothers, providing fortified food to older babies and toddlers and providing refugee women a safe space to breastfeed their children.
 
But the humanitarian response inside Syria and on its borders is facing huge funding shortfalls, while the number of people needing assistance is growing every day. The DEC has launched an urgent public appeal for funds and announced Saturday that it had raised £3.4 million within 48hours of the first broadcast of the appeal (the next fundraising update will be released midday Monday 25th March).  DEC member agencies are committed to providing support to people from all communities affected by the conflict based on need alone.
 
The total number of people in need of assistance in Syria and the surrounding countries is more than five million.
 
To make a donation to the DEC Syria Crisis Appeal visit http://www.dec.org.uk, call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, donate over the counter at any high street bank or post office, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word SUPPORT to 70000.
 
Stay up to date with developments in Syria, the emergency response and the fundraising efforts with the DEC on twitter: http://twitter.com/decappeal or on Facebook via http://www.facebook.com/DisastersEmergencyCommittee

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