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Bangladesh includes midwives in rapid emergency response teams

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Dhaka - Cyclone Roanu swept through Bangladesh in May 2016, causing floods and landslides, submerging hundreds of homes and affecting up to 3.7 million people across the country.

In the immediate aftermath, 22-year-old midwife Tania Akter was swiftly dispatched to a health facility on the hard-hit island of Uttordhurong Union, in the south-eastern district of Cox’s Bazar.

On arrival, it was clear she had her work cut out for her.

“The room was empty. There wasn’t even a place to sit. There was no equipment for deliveries or even to take someone’s blood pressure,” she says.

“So I contacted UNFPA to get the right equipment in, and they gave us all we needed - from iron tablets to a blood pressure machine – just what we needed for all antenatal, delivery and postnatal care.”

In any emergency, typically 1 in 5 women of reproductive age will be pregnant, but despite the new kit now available at Tania’s birthing facility, only a handful of people knew the facility was there.

“The health centre finally felt established and I had the quality equipment I needed, but I wondered why still no one was coming in, so I started visiting families, school teachers and religious leaders to build friendly relationships and let them know what kinds of needed services midwives could offer to the community,” Tania says.

“I held many courtyard meetings on the importance of professional medical care during pregnancy, delivery and post-partum. And when people visited the centre for free medicine, I used those visits to counsel them.”

In the wake of Cyclone Roanu, UNFPA helped recruit and dispatch 20 professional midwives like Tania to ensure safe births and sexual and reproductive care for women and girls stranded in disaster-affected areas.

"We’ve seen lives saved as a result of the midwives' involvement in crisis response," says Tandra Sikder, Director General of Nursing and Midwives for the Government of Bangladesh.

“This was made possible through a partnership with UNFPA, whose continued support and advocacy focus on equipping midwives and sending them to the country's most vulnerable communities.”

Almost a year on, Tania and the other midwives deployed after Cylone Roanu have helped safely deliver over 465 babies.

“I feel I have earned the respect of mothers and families,” Tania says.

“Even though we have to walk for miles to raise awareness about midwives’ work, and even when there is no electricity and we are away from our families, I am definitely happy.”

As a direct result of their successes, and through wider work with UNFPA, the government now deploys trained midwives as part of its rapid emergency response teams.

“This is a great step forward,” says Iori Kato, UNFPA’s acting Representative in Bangladesh.

“Bangladesh is one of the most natural disaster-prone nations on earth, and by including professional midwives throughout any emergency preparedness and response efforts, the government will save thousands of lives over the coming years, as well as advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, girls and far-flung communities.”

“In any emergency, meeting the needs of women and girls, including pregnant and lactating ones, is absolutely vital. We should not forget the simple fact that women do not stop getting pregnant or having babies even when a disaster hits,” he adds.

Since 2010, UNFPA has helped the government train and dispatch over 1,200 midwives, with more currently awaiting deployment. With UNFPA’s support, the government is working to establish a full faculty for midwifery training to ensure sufficient numbers of professional midwives for good.