Reproductive health issues constitute the leading cause of death and illness in women of childbearing age worldwide. For refugee women, this burden is further compounded by the precariousness of their situation.
Women fleeing war may have to give birth on the run, without even the most basic items for clean delivery. Natural disasters can wipe out medical facilities and push many women into premature labour. Even in relatively stable refugee settings, lack of family planning and maternal care can put countless women at risk.
In places where skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care are not available, an unplanned pregnancy can be fatal. The lack of health services and other factors can heighten the risks of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
The stress and disruption of war and other disasters often lead to a rise in sexual violence and domestic abuse. In addition to its psychological effects, sexual and domestic violence can have severe consequences for a woman’s general health. Women’s physiology leaves them more vulnerable than men to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Coercive sexual encounters increase this risk even further.
Because they relate to such an intimate sphere of life, reproductive health interventions must be delivered with great care and cultural sensitivity. Programmes must be particularly sensitive to religious and ethical values and cultural backgrounds of the refugee population. Providing comprehensive reproductive care also often requires careful coordination among several agencies.
The Fund works closely with governments, UN agencies, NGOs and other community-based organizations to see that reproductive health is integrated within primary health services. Through these partnerships, advanced planning and established mechanisms for cooperation are contributing to a faster and more coordinated humanitarian response.
The aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami, provides an example of the broad range of services supported by UNFPA at all stages of crisis and recovery: