Dispatch

Vital aid reaches thousands of displaced people in Marawi, Philippines

20 June 2017
A mother, displaced by fighting in Marawi, receives a UNFPA dignity kit containing crucial health, hygiene and safety-related supplies. Photo: UNFPA Philippines

Iligan, Philippines – With weary but firm arms, Tarhata Mostare cradles her newborn child at the sprawling Buru-un School of Fisheries evacuation centre in Iligan city, which is hosting women, men and children displaced by the fighting between government forces and members affiliated with the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups in neighbouring Marawi city on the long-troubled island of Mindanao. 

Ms. Mostare, 19, gave birth to her third child in her home in Marawi on 23 May 2017, the same day violence erupted in the city. Three days after her delivery, she evacuated from Marawi together with her husband and three children, making the harrowing journey on foot and riding jeepneys when possible.

Despite her ordeal, she is thankful. “I was with a woman who had also just given birth, but she lost her child. I’m very grateful that my baby survived, and that we’re both strong,” she said. 

As a result of the humanitarian crisis gripping Marawi and its environs, Ms. Mostare and thousands of other pregnant women, mothers and girls face hardships and challenges impacting their sexual and reproductive health needs, and their wider personal safety. They need urgent care and protection.

Of the more than 338,500 people displaced as of 18 June, based on data from the Disaster Response Operations and Monitoring Center of the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development, approximately 84,500 are women of reproductive age, with around 10,000 of them pregnant and around 6,700 lactating mothers with infants 0-6 months. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is supporting the humanitarian response to the crisis.

Upon the request of the Department of Health and with support from Australia, UNFPA has deployed 5,000 of its trademark dignity kits for pregnant and lactating women and 1,200 packs of clean delivery kits for emergency deliveries.

The dignity kits contain hygiene and protection items such as sanitary napkins, underwear, flashlights, whistle, soap and shampoo among others.

The clean delivery kits are part of 12 reproductive health kits used during emergencies to ensure that women are able to deliver safely even in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.

 

 

Heroes amidst the crisis

“It has been challenging,” said midwife Mitzie Belasio, 45, who has monitored the health of pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children at the Maria Cristina evacuation center in Iligan city since May 26. Ms. Belasio is part of the Department of Health’s Rural Health Midwives Placement Program, which recruits health professionals to complement the existing workforce of the rural health units.  “It’s my first time to be deployed in an evacuation centre, but I enjoy the work. It is my profession,” she said.

Stationed at the facility’s health station, which offers vaccines and vitamins, Ms. Belasio went on to explain some of the challenges to providing care. There are language barriers. “Many of the evacuees do not understand us and we don’t understand them,” she said. “As a provider, we have to continuously have patience as we counsel and make them feel that we are there to help."

Looking to the future

“We hope the fighting ends soon,” said Maria Gina Cabanlit, 53, a member of the Women Welfare Program at the City Social Welfare and Development office at the Maria Cristina evacuation center.

There is growing uncertainty over the prolonged displacement of thousands of people, including pregnant women.

“In the beginning we received a lot of donations at the evacuation center, but as time passed this has declined,” she added.

For new mothers such as Ms. Mostare and for pregnant women affected by the crisis, access to reproductive health services remains critical to their survival as well as their children’s.

The UNFPA Philippines country office has long supported humanitarian response in the country, with a focus on the health, safety and overall well-being of women, girls and young persons.

For more information, please contact: Mario Villamor, UNFPA Philippines:  Tel: +63 917 302  6699 (Manila) / e-mail: villamor@unfpa.org