Women’s Health Critical for Recovery in Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, Says UNFPA Executive Director

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TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines — The international community must make women’s health a priority as typhoon-hit areas in the Philippines begin reconstruction and recovery, said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, following a visit to the provinces of Leyte and Eastern Samar.

“Pregnancies don’t wait for debris to be cleared and for livelihoods to be restored,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “Providing reproductive health care, including family planning, is essential to helping women stay healthy and making informed choices while they rebuild their lives.”

It is estimated that 3.7 million women of reproductive age are still affected by the impact of super typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines last month. Nearly 1,000 births per day are expected, with almost 150 of them to experience life-threatening complications. Two maternal deaths were reported in Roxas, Capiz, during the first days after the typhoon as hospitals were unable to provide blood transfusions.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin (centre) hands over a “hospital in a container.” This temporary unit will provide emergency obstetric care for women affected by the typhoon. Photo © UNFPA

During his visit over the weekend, Dr. Osotimehin handed over to local authorities in Palo, Leyte, in the company of the Secretary of Health Dr. Enrique Ona, the first of two “hospitals in containers” to be provided by UNFPA in the region. These temporary facilities, introduced for the first time in the Philippines, are specifically designed to provide emergency obstetric care, including Caesarean sections.

“By providing these temporary units, we support the Government as it begins the process of rebuilding its health infrastructure,” explained Dr. Osotimehin. The second unit will be placed in Balangiga, Eastern Samar, where the main hospital was completely destroyed during the typhoon and is still awaiting to be reconstructed.

Dr. Osotimehin also visited reproductive health missions conducted in Palo, Leyte and Balangiga, Eastern Samar, where over 200 pregnant and lactating women received medical care, including family planning and psychosocial support. Over 3,000 pregnant and lactating women in all affected areas have benefited from targeted services through UNFPA’s medical missions in the past weeks.

Equipment as well as four ambulances and three motorcycle ambulances were provided to hospitals in Tacloban City and Balangiga during the visit. Laboratory equipment was also handed over to the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Centre in Tacloban City, for the detection of sexually transmitted infections among children who have been victims of sexual abuse so that evidence can be used in court.

UNFPA has been assisting in re-establishing lifesaving services for survivors of gender-based violence while also putting in place mechanisms to ensure that women and girls are protected. “We know that in emergencies, gender-based violence increases,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “As we focus on the health of women, we must also keep them safe from all forms of violence.”

With UNFPA’s support, 38 female police officers have been deployed to Eastern Leyte and have been trained to provide security in evacuation centres. Dr. Osotimehin also visited women friendly spaces run by UNFPA, where gender-based violence awareness sessions take place. An estimated 1,000 women every month will benefit from these spaces, where hygiene kits that include underwear, soap and sanitary pads, are also distributed.

As UNFPA continues to respond to the unique needs of women and girls, psychosocial services will be an ongoing priority. “We will be with you along the way,” said Dr. Osotimehin to health workers and typhoon survivors. “We are here to help you restore hope and dignity to the people of the Philippines.”

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UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, delivers a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

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