Pregnant and on the Run

19 Sep 2016

Pregnant and on the Run

19 September 2016 | Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund

As world leaders gather in New York for the first-ever Summit on Refugees and Migrants, they need to focus on, and tackle, the special needs of women and adolescent girls.  

Every displaced woman and girl needs protection of her health and dignity, as well as services that could save her life.

Millions of women migrants and refugees experience unintended pregnancy due to lack of family planning. But being pregnant and on the run is not easy. Every day, more than 500 women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth in humanitarian and fragile settings. In addition, many face the risk of rape, trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence.

Some women and girls are lucky, as they find the care and compassion they need when they are pregnant and on the run. One of them is 16-year-old Morsay, who fled Afghanistan with her 37-year-old husband, Shagah. As refugees, they spent two months on the road, passing through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece before crossing into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Morsay, pregnant with her first child, was one of the first patients at a mobile clinic supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.  After being examined by the doctor, she was relieved when she heard that she and her baby were doing well.

They are part of the largest wave of forcibly displaced people in history – some 65.3 million people are currently displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency, and 21.3 million are refugees.

All of them need our support. Pregnant women face increased risks of complications as they travel through conflict zones with damaged and destroyed health facilities, and over large expanses of land and sea. Many of them have no access to skilled birth attendance. And this vulnerability is further compounded by the fact that a large number, like Morsay, are adolescents – a population much more likely to face complications and death during pregnancy and childbirth than women in their twenties.

As a result, approximately three out of five preventable maternal deaths worldwide occur in countries with conflict, displacement and natural disaster.

Refugee women are also much more likely to suffer gender-based violence, and may be in urgent need of treatment and counselling. However, despite these elevated risks and the resulting need for information and services, quality sexual and reproductive health care is often scarce and hard to access amidst the instability.

To raise awareness and support for women’s health in emergencies, UNFPA has relaunched the Safe Birth Even Here campaign in a creative partnership with Benetton. The ultimate goal is to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services and supplies and save the lives of women and newborns in humanitarian settings.

In 2015, UNFPA and partners reached more than 9 million people with life-saving services in more than 34 countries.

Together, we can make a positive difference. When we assume shared responsibility for humanity, and protect human rights and dignity, we build hope for the future.