The safest maternal clinic for refugees in the world is at risk

The safest maternal clinic for refugees in the world is at risk
Women in refugee camps around the world have been put at risk by the Trump administration's withdrawal of funding for the UN's maternal health agency
4 min read
20 Jun, 2017
In the Zaatari camp, there have been 7,500 deliveries and not a single maternal death

A little under three months ago, the US State department announced its plans to withdraw funding for the UNFPA, the United Nations population fund responsible for providing reproductive and maternal health services in more than 150 countries.

The decision, which means the UNFPA may lose $32.5 million in funding from the 2017 budget, will affect the efforts to end childbirth mortality and provide child-health services all around the world.

Among the many health-care providers who are likely to be impacted by this is the maternal health clinic in Al-Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan - the largest refugee camp for Syrians in the world. And one of those who may be directly affected is Sara and her mother, Duaa.

Earlier this month, independent film-maker and cinematographer Lauren Andres Brown got UNFPA access to follow Sara and Duaa. Shortly after Sara was born, her family had to flee Syria and they now live in Al-Zaatari. Sara is about to turn six years old and like many other Syrian children born after the break of the civil war in 2011, life in a refugee camp is all she’s ever known. After five years of living in the camp, their family might be welcoming a new member – Duaa is nine months pregnant and due to give birth at any time.

In many ways, the story of their family highlights the struggles and hopes of many Syrians living as refugees around the world today. After escaping the horror of war, refugees are now hoping to rebuild their lives and families.

Over the past five years, Zaatari went from a location for temporary accommodation to the third most populated city in Jordan hosting almost 80,000 Syrian refugees. It is still difficult for the residents of Zaatari to call the camp their home and most are still clinging on to the hope of going back to Syria. But there is no end in sight for the war in Syria and with each passing day it seems less likely that a trip back to Syria will be happening anytime soon.

Life in the camp has become a reality for far too many and Al-Zaatari has succeeded in providing a fairly comfortable life for its residents with the basic needs from food to shelter. But beyond merely surviving, it is our collective duty to ensure residents of camps such as Zaatari also get a true chance to rebuild a normal live.

In Zaatari there are currently an average of around 80 births per week (42 births per 1,000 people.) It is a rate higher than many parts of the world and a lot of effort is put to increase awareness of family planning. But in addition to such efforts, it is absolutely crucial to ensure that expectant mothers are also guaranteed proper health care.

Here Zaatari presents a positive example. There have been 7,500 deliveries and not a single maternal death. This is a statistic unheard of even in the most developed nations and it is largely thanks to the effort of countless healthcare professionals and the aid the clinic receives from the UNFPA.

Sara, and her mother Duaa

In a place such as Zaatari the clinic has to depend almost entirely on donations and external support. Maintaining such a standard comes down to many factors; from proper facilities to having access to the resources to providing consultations and check-ups for expectant mothers. If the funding for this is cut then the foundation the maternal health clinics in the camp are built on may collapse and the health of every pregnant woman who benefited from the clinic's services would be jeopardised.

No refugee in Zaatari or elsewhere in the world chose to be a refugee. Being in a situation where you are forced to leave your home does not cancel out basic human needs, drives and desires. This includes the desire to keep our families alive, safe and healthy.

For expectant mothers in Zaatari like Doaa, a safe delivery is only the first challenge and is most likely to be followed by many hardships which come with living in a camp. But for a true chance at normality, a safe delivery and adequate maternal health care are basic rights of Syrian mothers in Zaatari and elsewhere and we must ensure that right is not stripped away.

Nassar is an Egyptian living in London. Interested in history, philosophy and all things Middle East.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.