Imagine not being able to call the midwife

 

In the What’s going on? Series, Head of Programmes Dina talks to us about some of the biggest issues facing people living in war-torn communities.

Photo credit: Hand in Hand for Aid and Development


My midwife moment

 

When I was pregnant with my first child I was in Washington DC preparing my organisation’s response to the Ebola crisis. As is usual in the US, I had been seeing an OB-GYN (a doctor who specializes in women's health) throughout my pregnancy, as midwives are not part of the healthcare system over there. I’d been working day and night and got really sick, so my mum persuaded me to come home to the UK.

I worried for the health of my baby but in the UK I was immediately assigned a midwife and I couldn’t believe how quickly she put me at ease. She was there for me through what turned out to be a fairly traumatic birth - at one point I passed out and my son’s heartbeat couldn’t be detected. But that wasn’t the end of the story. I saw the midwife continually over the next weeks - in fact, she was always popping in to see me while I was in hospital, supporting me with the things that people think come naturally, like breastfeeding and caring for my baby.

I’ve worked with medics for over 16 years, but I never knew the half of what these angels did, or the pressure they are under, especially during the delivery.

 

Planning for families in camps

 

When I first visited Atmeh camp, it wasn’t really a camp at all - 20 or so families had gathered and had built shelters under the trees; they had been making their way to Turkey (like thousands of others fleeing the war) but the border had been closed. Fast forward seven years and Atmeh is home to over 250,000 Syrians.

For women going through pregnancy and giving birth in Atmeh camp, and throughout the country, their story couldn’t be more different to mine.

The healthcare system in Syria has been decimated. Women don’t have many choices when it comes to how they will have their baby, often having them in a tent or other temporary shelter - with no support from a qualified midwife. The sense of security that I took for granted when I was pregnant doesn’t exist for them - they don’t have anyone to guide them through their pregnancy, they can’t make an appointment to see a doctor if they fall ill, they can’t pick up a phone in the middle of the night and call for an ambulance if they go into labour.

Naturally, myself and the women in my antenatal group worried about everything from what pain control to use and whether we would need stitches, to mood lighting and birthing balls. Women in Syria haven’t stopped worrying about the smaller details, but in a country where the maternal mortality rate has increased by nearly 40% since the start of the war,

these women are also having to worry about whether or not they will survive the delivery and see their child.

 

The complications of war

 

Like the US, midwifery isn’t part of Syria’s healthcare system - pregnant women rely on the support of an OB-GYN, or in rural cases a traditional unqualified birth attendant, or at least they did. Since war broke out, it is estimated that over half of Syria’s doctors have fled. So in many cases, women give birth alone.

 

The support structures may have disappeared, but the need for them has not. As is the trend in war-torn countries, early marriages and a breakdown of reproductive health care services are compounding the problem. Where women do have access to OB-GYNs, they are being scheduled in for C-sections to make the flow of births manageable for the still-diminishing population of medical staff. This ‘C-section first’ approach brings its own set of troubles; it is almost impossible for women in camps to recover well, lack of access to clean water, personal care items and medicine means that infections are inevitable.

Introducing trained midwives into camps like Atmeh could be the difference between life and death.

 

Photo credit: Hand in Hand for Aid and Development


You can help midwives save lives

 

Our partner Hand in Hand for Aid and Development is running a school for midwives in a hospital they have built to care for the people of Atmeh camp. But the school is facing closure due to a lack of funding -

they need to raise £59,963 by 4 January 2019 so that 80 student midwives can continue their life-saving training.

Please help them save the lives of mothers and their babies by heading over to their campaign page to find out more and to make a contribution.


About Dina Prior

Dina has worked in 28 countries across the globe, often at the front lines of conflicts. Dedicated to supporting first responders, her career has focused on assisting people and communities in most need by providing the ability to become self-reliant.