Rubina Mallah embarked on a perilous three-hour journey by boat through floodwaters to get to the nearest hospital in time to give birth to her baby, as the roads leading to Sehwan’s clinic were submerged.
The 27-year-old is among tens of thousands of pregnant women displaced by historic floods that inundated nearly a third of the country and affected 33 million people, many of whom are currently in camps.
“I was worried that night when the waters of the lake overflowed,” Mallah told Reuters as she cradled her day-old son, Muhammad Tayyab. His village, located on the edge of the huge freshwater lake Manchar, is now under water.
“My husband brought a boat, I traveled three hours to reach the hospital where my delivery took place.”
Tayyab started life in a makeshift shelter in a school under construction on the outskirts of Sehwan town. It is a common fate as millions of Pakistanis seek shelter from rising waters that have flooded homes and fields and destroyed their livelihoods.
Mallah’s husband, Mushtaq Mallah, said the family initially decided to stay home because they had nowhere to go, and so set up camp on their roof.
“My wife then started having labor pains around 10 p.m.,” he recalls. “We spent the night in despair; in the morning I brought a boat… and we arrived at the hospital.
“It was a journey of desperation. Every time the floods come, we become destitute.”
The hospital, the Abdullah Shah Institute in Sehwan, is about 15 kilometers from the Mallahs’ home. Normally this would have been an easy road trip.
But since torrential rains fell in August, Pakistan’s largest freshwater lake has come dangerously close to breaking its shores, even after being breached in an operation to keep the waters at bay.
Nayla Qureshi, a gynecologist at the hospital, said her outpatient department sees around 150 pregnant women from surrounding areas every day.
Since Tuesday, six flood-displaced women have given birth at the institute and one patient has undergone an emergency caesarean section, she told Reuters.
“Our workload has increased. Some of our doctors who belong to different districts stay here because there is an emergency. Pregnancy is not the (only) problem…women come in with psychological trauma of total loss “, added Qureshi.
Hospital director Moinuddin Siddiqui said medical teams were visiting the camps to give pregnant women the necessary medication.
Read also : Rescue operation underway around Lake Manchhar
“Those who are pregnant at term, we advise them not to give birth in the camps at all costs,” Siddiqui said.
“Without a doubt, the floods are likely to increase the risks of infant and maternal mortality,” he added.
At the hospital, another pregnant woman, Dilshad Allahwarayo, 32, had also arrived by boat.
“I had labor pains when the floods came,” she said.
The acting representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for Pakistan, Dr Bakhtior Kadirov, said his organization was concerned about the tens of thousands of pregnant women in the affected areas.
According to UNFPA’s latest assessment, 138,000 women in need of humanitarian assistance due to flooding are pregnant and 40,000 are expected to give birth in September.
UNFPA is rushing to reach those due to give birth this month, working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) to send mobile teams and put set up temporary hospitals in the camps.
Doctors are particularly concerned about women who cannot access medical care in time and who have complications requiring cesarean delivery or those who develop postpartum hemorrhage, both of which can be fatal or lead to disability without access. to specialized health care.
Even before the floods, nationwide, 186 women died for every 100,000 live births, according to official figures.
This figure rises to 224 per 100,000 births in Sindh province, where the Mallah live, and 298 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in Balochistan, the other hardest hit province.
“One of the problems is that even before the flood, the maternal mortality rate was high,” Kadirov said.
“The damage to health facilities and infrastructure is unimaginable, putting the lives of pregnant women at great risk,” he added.