Cecilia, a 27-year-old mother of eight, lives in a remote part of western Tanzania. During her latest pregnancy, she went to the local health facility to deliver her child. To her surprise, she delivered twins, but not without incident. After delivering the babies, she started bleeding heavily, passed out and went into shock. Fortunately the health care provider at the facility was able to provide her with emergency medical care. Cecilia fully recovered and is now a proud mother, but many women are not so fortunate.
Worldwide, more than 350,000 women die every year from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth—that’s nearly one every minute. For women affected by conflict or disaster, who are displaced from their homes and communities, the risk of maternal death or injury is especially high. In fact, over 60 percent of the world’s maternal deaths occur in 10 countries, nine of which are currently experiencing or emerging from conflict. With the breakdown of traditional social structures during times of war or conflict, women face an increased threat of sexual abuse, exploitation and violence. And sexual violence puts them at high risk of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions, especially since they often lack access to emergency contraception and emergency care for pregnancy and childbirth complications.
Access to quality health services can mean the difference between life and death. In crisis settings, this access is particularly limited, increasing the risk of maternal death, the main causes of which are: hemorrhage, unsafe abortions, high blood pressure or prolonged and obstructed labor without access to cesarean section. The lack of access to health care also raises the risk of newborn death, usually caused by preterm birth, infection or asphyxia (lack of oxygen) during childbirth. However, there are several steps that can be taken to prevent maternal and newborn death. Training attendants to assist mothers during childbirth and making cesarean section readily available can prevent mothers and their infants from dying needlessly.
The Women's Refugee Commission calls attention to the urgent need for maternal health services for displaced women and girls.