Midwives offer lifeline to pregnant Rohingya
Trained nurses have come to aid of 24,000 pregnant and lactating Rohingya women staying in Bangladesh’s refugee camps.
Kutupalong, Cox’s Bazar – Masooka lay on a bed at the government-run health centre in Kutupalong.
She was pale and drained after giving birth to her first baby. Her mother-in-law and husband, looking visibly happy, were staring at the baby sleeping quietly beside her.
The 24-year-old said she was feeling happy and relieved because the delivery process went without any complication. “I was surprised at the good services here,” she told Al Jazeera.
They have yet to name the baby. Masooka’s husband, Shafi Alam, said he had not had time to think about the name as they have been struggling to sort out their basic needs since they arrived in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district on September 16 from Dhankhali in Maungdaw.
They are among the estimated 436,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar since August 25 when the military launched a brutal crackdown on the majority-Muslim ethnic group.
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Hundreds of Rohingya villages have been burned down, and more than 400 Rohingya have been killed in a crackdown that the UN has called a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”.
Aid agencies have struggled to provide shelter, food and healthcare to distraught people, who are not recognised as citizens by the Myanmar government despite living there for generations.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that out of the nearly 150,000 Rohingya women of reproductive age (15-49 years), approximately 24,000 are pregnant and lactating.
Midwives, many of them trained by the UNFPA, have come to the aid of pregnant women and young mothers, who seek the services of health centres such as Kutupalong.
Tania Aktar joined the Kutupalong health centre in February as a midwife. She says since the influx of Rohingya people, the centre has been receiving more patients.
“We have conducted 12 deliveries in the past 21 days,” the 24-year-old told Al Jazeera.
“Some of the Rohingya women, who come for delivery, are without food for days, lack proper clothes, and have no money to buy other needs.
“They are really helpless. Many of them have delivered babies on the roadside,” she said.
The health centre, which also caters to the local population, runs 24/7 and provides antenatal as well as postnatal care, Tania informed.
Pregnant women such as Arefa Begum had to run for days to escape death. She is nine months pregnant. She arrived in Bangladesh on September 13 from Bolibazar in Maungdaw.
“I had to walk for miles and could not take rest. I had no food and rains made things worse. I was so tired, I could not breathe,” Arefa, whose feet and hands were swollen, said.
“There is no space where I can feel safe back in Myanmar. I feel better here.”
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Arefa is in the queue to consult a midwife at Kutupalong. “We had no access to a health facility in Myanmar,” she said. “I am glad am here.”
Her husband Serajul Mustafa, she said, has been supportive despite money constraints.
Another midwife, Najma Akter, said the drugs and services at the health centre are free. “We visit the community inside the refugee camps and counsel them to avail our services for a secured delivery,” she said.
“In the camps, mothers have low nutrition level; they are anaemic. They had no access to healthcare previously.”
Najma, 24, said that the health centre also offers services for general patients, including children and older people.
Twenty-year-old Asharu has also come for a check-up. Her baby was delivered six days ago. She is complaining of body pain and dizziness.
She said there were no health facilities like this in her village in Sabraguna in Maungdaw. “Am happy at the services here.”
Dr Mohammad Ashraful Alam, Field Officer with UNFPA, said that his organisation had provided 68 midwives in Cox’s Bazar, including the Kutupalong health centre.
“We are running four medical camps right now and plan to start four more,” he said.
Priya Marwah, the Humanitarian Response Coordinator at the UNFPA, said that they were trying to strengthen the services with the help of government and local partners.
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“We provide services and supplies to healthcare providers both the government as well as IOM-run clinics or the UNFPA-run mobile clinics run by our local partners,” she said.
“Just two days ago we found a woman who delivered on the roadside in the middle of night. She was brought to one of our health centres where our midwives were able to take care of her and the baby.
“These kinds of stories are happening on a daily basis.”
At Thaingkhali refugee camp, about 100 pregnant women have been consulting the midwives at the mobile clinic run by the UNFPA.
Priya from the UNFPA said they also focused on menstrual hygiene and supported partners in establishing Women Friendly Spaces, which offer counselling and psychosocial support to many of the traumatised women.
“The partners we work on the ground with in Women Friendly Spaces have heard of cases where women have been subjected to gender-based violence, not just sexual violence,” she said.
But she admitted on the need to scale up operations to reach more women.
Tania, the midwife, said Rohingya women are very weak because they have so many children.
“We have found many mothers with 7-14 children because they have no knowledge about family planning,” she said.
“We try to speak to them and convince them to adopt family planning because it is good for their health.”