Condoms, napkins needed for typhoon evacuees

by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 08 2009 10:17 PM | Updated as of Oct 13 2009 12:22 AM

MANILA - Concerned health groups are hoping to give more condoms and toiletries to victims of tropical storm Ondoy, in an effort to respond to reproductive health (RH) problems in overcrowded evacuation centers.

Already, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with help from the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines (FPOP), have distributed 3,400 hygiene kits for pregnant women and reproductive health kits for 10,000 typhoon victims.

Suneeta Mukherjee, country representative of the UNFPA, said in a phone interview that they are concerned about unsafe deliveries by pregnant women, teenage and unwanted pregnancies, and the possible spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

"You find that there are more and more pregnancies [in evacuation centers]," she told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.

"Because, what happens when you are insecure? You get closer to each other, you look for warmth, and things happen. Also, condoms are not available there," she added.

The reproductive health kits - assembled at UNFPA headquarters in Copenhagen, Denmark - contain condoms for men and a safe delivery kit for pregnant women.

The group has already distributed kits to the Concepcion Elementary School in Marikina City, Barangay Bagong Silangan in Quezon City, and shelters in Taguig, Malabon, Navotas, and Rizal municipalities like San Mateo, Cainta, and Montalban.

Unsafe deliveries

Mukherjee said women who would give birth in evacuation centers are susceptible to infections due to unsanitary practices.

"This morning, there were 2 deliveries. Somebody just cut a cord with a non-sterilized scissor," she said, adding that things like these could induce septic shock, eclampsia, infections, or even death.

Mukherjee said the Integrated Midwives Association of the Philippines (IMAP) are going to send 2 midwives to every evacuation center.

The midwives are tasked to examine pregnant women, supervise lactation and breastfeeding, or bring pregnant mothers to hospitals for clean deliveries when necessary.

Mukherjee said evacuation centers they have visited also reflect the country's population problem.

"There are about 50 pregnant women and lactating mothers. And there were young girls who had babies, women who had 5 to 8 babies each. So that's sad. We want to push for planned pregnancies," she said.

More need help

While the group has provided assistance to over 10,000 evacuees, Mukherjee said they still have to reach 1.6 million Filipinos affected by tropical storm Ondoy, including about 14,000 pregnant mothers.

"Relief efforts are strained because everyone is working under constraints," she told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.

Dr. Sean Lezada of the FPOP said in a phone interview that supplies are "a bit limited" so they are prioritizing women who are visibly pregnant or in their last trimester (6 to 9 months).

The FPOP assists the UNFPA with distribution of health kits by coordinating with local government units, through their health officers.

"We're still in the process of gathering information regarding [which] places to visit because a lot [of victims] have gone back to their homes already," Lezada told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.

"But as long as they were evacuees and they are pregnant, they are entitled to hygiene kits," he said.

Lack of data

The exact number of pregnant women in evacuation centers is spotty at best.

Lezada said local health officers had to be reminded to gather data about the number of pregnant women in evacuation centers and their health status.

This helps agencies determine which evacuation centers need immediate RH assistance.

"Reproductive health is oftentimes overlooked. So we've still got a long way to go when it comes to RH planning in disaster relief," he said.

The Department of Health's Council for Health and Development (CHD) in the National Capital region is still getting data on the status of pregnant women in evacuation centers.

"Sa ngayon, may mga nanganganak na. Pero wala pa kami masyadong data kasi naka-focus kami sa Vitamin A and vaccinations eh," said Cita Garcia of the CHD-NCR in a phone interview.

(As of now, there are women already giving birth. But we don't have that much data because we are focusing on distributing Vitamin A supplements and vaccinations.)

She said the CHD-NCR could provide data on births and pregnancies in evacuation centers within the week.

Other health needs

The health groups also want to address the hygiene needs of evacuees, apart from their need for food and potable water.

The UNFPA's hygiene kits, bought locally, contain panties, cleanliness towels, water, alcohol, sanitizers, toothpaste, a toothbrush, and sanitary napkins.

Mukherjee said they are also coordinating with the World Food Programme in providing high-calorie biscuits for mothers and natal kits or warm blankets for children through the United Nations Children's Fund.

"Hygiene and maternal and child health care is an equally important need that should be addressed. Responding to [these] in evacuation sites will help us avoid further and unnecessary loss of life," said FPOP Executive Director Roberto Ador in a press statement.

The distribution of hygiene and reproductive health kits has been the UNFPA's project since last year, under the Minimum Initial Service Package for Reproductive Health (MISP).

The MISP aims to provide reproductive health assistance and education to victims of disasters all over the world.

Mukherjee said the UNFPA had also provided kits for victims of typhoon Milenyo and the conflicts in Mindanao. Report by Kristine Servando, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.