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Midwives Shortage: Thousands of Rohingya Babies Born in Poor Sanitation

Only few of Rohingya refugees’ babies will be born in health facilities, and from the very beginning they will be at risk of dying before the age of five.

For thousands of Rohingya babies, cramped and squalid refugee camps of Bangladesh are the only home they have ever known. They were born in basic tents having to battle odds stacked against them: an overcrowded environment, malnutrition, and risk of catching such diseases as diphtheria, cholera and measles.

U.N. reports have shown that as of December 31, there were around 58,700 pregnant women in the Rohingya population living in the camps. Almost 67 percent of pregnant women had no access to gynecological and obstetrical care services.

“The inability of refugees to reach health facilities due to lack of road access remains a barrier to accessing acute medical services such as immunization, SRH [sexual and reproductive health] and mental health services,” a U.N. situation report said.

According to U.N. Population Fund, some 3,650 deliveries of Rohingya babies had been conducted in facilities supported by its partners as of December 31. The number of the community births have never been recorded, however, since there is no mechanism to track them.

UNFPA Bangladesh National Program Officer Asma Akter told The Globe Post that only 22 percent of deliveries among Rohingya communities happen in health facilities.

Save the Children, an international NGO headquartered in the U.K. has estimated that more than 48,000 Rohingya babies will be born in Bangladesh this year, or about 130 a day.

“Few of these babies will be born in health facilities, and from day one will be at an increased risk of getting sick, suffering malnutrition and therefore dying before the age of five,” the NGO said in a release.

Ms. Akter said that at present, routine mortality tracking at camps remains weak primarily due to lack of death registration systems.

“Only surveys can help to compute such rates. A UNFPA supported survey with a limited sample, size is currently underway to estimate key rates and ratios. However such small-scale surveys will come with wide confidence intervals,” she said.

Large-scale surveys could help estimate infant mortality rates with greater precision, but they are expensive to do.

The U.N.’s “Rohingya Crisis Humanitarian Response Plan” appealed for $434 million to meet the needs of 1.2 million people from September 2017-February 2018.

“Despite donors pledging $335 million during the Geneva conference in late October, the response is currently only half funded,” Save the Children spokesperson Erin Taylor told The Globe Post. “This will significantly hamper the aid agencies activities to support people most in need.”

To aid the dire situation on the ground, UNFPA has deployed 14 midwives to the two government-run Registered Refugee Camps in Bangladesh. Additional 35 work in different extension sites and government- and NGO-run facilities funded by UNFPA in Ukhiya and Teknaf areas. But this is far from being enough.

“In order to provide 24X7 services; in good quality – more midwives are needed, and they need to be placed inside the camps. Most recent evidence suggests that two midwives are needed for every 175 deliveries in a year,” Ms. Akter said.

Humanitarian aid organizations are trying to address the crisis, but the needs that still need to be met are enormous.

In August-December, some 655,500 Rohingya refugees arrived in Cox’s Bazar fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, according to the U.N. They have spent most their savings to cross the border and are now heavily dependent on humanitarian assistance for food and other basic needs.

“We don’t have enough resources and funding to ensure every mother and child receives the medical care they require. We urge the international community to step up and provide funding for this response so that vulnerable Rohingya children and families continue to receive the support they so desperately need,” Save the Children Health Advisor in Cox’s Bazar Rachael Cummings said.

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