UNICEF and partners are providing essential medical services to displaced Pakistani families through a network of mobile health units. Devastated by her husband’s death and displaced by floods, Rani Mauji, 25, holds her badly undernourished baby in her arms, her face fixed in an expression of quiet resignation. Omji, her third child, was born only 20 days ago – a week after her husband’s death. Report by A. Sami Malik, SINDH, Pakistan.
Rani’s husband had tuberculosis. He was frail and could hardly move, but the fear of rising water forced the family to leave their straw house in the middle of the night. He died before they could get to safety.
“We were fleeing our village when he fell and died. We had to bury him along the way,” recalled Rani, sitting in a dank school corridor where she took refuge along with her three children and mother-in-law.
Assisting flood victims
For many days the deluge fell, leaving displaced families from Allabukhsh Jarwar Village without food, water or medical support. Mothers with newborn babies and pregnant women were in particular need of help, as the risk of diseases such as diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection and malaria increase exponentially with the inclement weather.
As the downpours eased and the scale of the disaster emerged, emergency assistance started to reach many of the 5.4 million affected by the floods. UNICEF, in collaboration with the World Food Programme and the United Nations Population Fund, initiated a joint operation to support government authorities in the worst-hit districts of Sindh. Essential medical and health services are now reaching an increasing number of people every day through a network of mobile health units, each including lady health visitors, community midwives and vaccinators.
Dr. Waheeda Memon leads one such mobile health unit, which operates out of a house in the village and provides medical advice, medicines, vaccination services, delivery kits, newborn kits and insecticide-treated mosquito nets to nearly 300 women and children.
Mobile health units
In order to benefit from medical services being provided at her doorstep, Rani visits the mobile health unit as it arrives in her village. She is particularly concerned about the health of her newborn.
“He has been suffering from severe diarrhoea and needs to be fed frequently,” she said worriedly. “We heard that a medical team has come to our village so I have come to seek help.”
After examining little Omji, Dr. Waheeda concluded he was clinically premature and severely dehydrated.
“Rani is not producing enough breast milk, so the baby is not getting the required nutrition,” she said. “She is also under considerable psychological trauma due to her husband’s death during the floods.”
UNICEF provides support
Raising awareness about health, hygiene and nutrition is an important objective for the mobile health units.
“Our services also include conducting health education sessions where awareness is given to communities on health, hygiene and nutrition,” said Dr. Jairam Das, Medical Officer of the National Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Programme. “With a focus on mother and child health, we are conducting these interventions in seven districts, with support from UNICEF and other UN partners.”