Delivering babies during the Pakistan flooding crisis

In August last year, more than a third of Pakistan was submerged under flood water in a climate disaster of epic proportions. The rains during the monsoon season were recorded as three times greater than the national average for the last 30 years. Of the 33 million people affected, 16 million were children and 8.2 million were women of reproductive age.  

With many hospitals under water and more than 880 government healthcare facilities destroyed, the public health system was overwhelmed, so Marie Stopes Society (MSS) in Pakistan quickly mobilized to fill the gaps.  

I’m glad to be part of a team that’s responding and helping people in this urgent crisis,” said Shahrukh Alam Butt, Head of Social Franchise and Outreach at MSS. “MSS’ usual service delivery channels include 13 of our own static clinics and 335 private social franchise facilities. But our unique offering that’s enabling us to respond to this emergency is our 15 mobile outreach teams.  

“Our mobile clinics, each staffed with teams of healthcare professionals, are driving into the affected areas to visit emergency flood relief camps. We’re the main organisation here delivering sexual and reproductive healthcare to women and girls on a massive scale.”  

Once the monsoon hit, MSS Pakistan reached out to DFAT and requested that they deploy the three outreach vans funded by RESPOND in Hyderabad, Larkana and Tando Allahyar to provide not only family planning services, but also basic medical care to the flood-affected communities in its districts and surrounding areas.  

The outreach teams have moved quickly to provide essential care, any way they can.  “Just two weeks ago, a pregnant nineteen-year-old woman in one of the emergency flood relief camps came up to one of our RESPOND-funded mobile clinics with her parents-in-law,” said Shahrukh. “She was in labour. Her husband wasn’t there—he had gone back to their village to try to rescue some of the remaining people. Our outreach teams usually only provide contraception, and I can tell you that delivering babies is not normally part of their day!  

“But as midwives, they responded immediately and brought her into their care, delivering her baby safely into the world in the back of the van. The team transported her and her baby to the closest hospital to get appropriate vaccinations and post-natal care, before dropping her back to the tent where her family was now taking shelter. I can’t stop thinking about this woman bringing her baby into the world in the middle of an emergency flood relief camp, having just lost their home, money, everything.” 

As well as providing lifesaving sexual and reproductive healthcare services, MSS is providing essential primary health care (including treatment for malaria, skin fungal infections and diarrhoea). 

“We’re also procuring culturally appropriate menstrual health kits that we can distribute, which will include cotton underwear, small washable towels, hand sanitiser, and soap,” said Dr Tasneem Fatima, Director of Health Services at MSS. “These will give women and girls the ability to manage their own menstrual health, an essential part of their dignity.”