Born On The Run: Young Iraqi Mothers Fleeing ISIS Give Birth Anywhere They Can

With the battle for West Mosul still raging, and ISIS increasingly using civilians as human shields as coalition airstrikes continue, many expectant mothers are fleeing for their lives – in some cases even giving birth on the run.

Layla* is just three days old and was born in the ruins of an abandoned house, with shelling and shooting all around. Her 17-year-old mother Rehab* was just days away from her due date when the fighting in her neighborhood got unbearable and forced her and her family to flee in the middle of the night.

Rehab fell repeatedly as they tried to escape and went into labor hours into the journey.

“I went into labor on the road. I was very scared for me and my baby but my mother and another older woman helped me,” said Rehab. “It was very quick, maybe just 15 minutes. We rested for about another 30 minutes and then we started running again.”

The family is now in Hamam Al Alil reception center, the main focal point for those fleeing Mosul, where more than 242,000 have been registered since the offensive began.

Most people are relocated quickly, but with thousands arriving every day and more than 320,000 people displaced since the Mosul offensive began six months ago, families, many with young children, are falling through the gaps.

Save the Children is distributing water, toiletries and newborn kits in the camps and have built and continue to clean latrines in the reception center.

Twenty-day old Lubna* has been in the center for almost two weeks. Her 15-year-old mother Reem* was in labor for more than two days but could not get medical care due to the fighting raging outside. The second she was strong enough, her and her mother Masa* fled with several other members of their family.

“Her delivery was very hard, very hard indeed, but there was nothing we could do because of the fighting. We wanted to leave Mosul,” says Masa.

“My brother has been killed and we wanted to go but Reem was too weak, so we stayed for five days and then we left and walked to safety. Thank God Lubna is healthy but we are very worried about her and that she will get sick in a place like this.”

Marwa*, 5 months, at Hamam al-Alil IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children, including Marwa*. Marwa* said: "The journey was hard and me and the children were very scared. But all I could think about was how we needed to get to safety and how I needed to keep my children safe – so that drove me and kept me going even though the children were very hungry and they were crying a lot. My older children were able to walk but we had to carry the younger ones in our arms – I carried Marwa*, while my husband carried my son and my uncle my other daughter. Marwa* is sick. Ten days ago she got a high fever and bad diarrhea. We were given medicine but it is not working and then, about two days ago, she got a bad cough that is getting worse. Luckily she sleeps at night, but her diarrhea never stops. It is very difficult to deal with this here. There is no privacy at all. Neither me, nor the baby, have had a shower since we arrived 20 days ago and I have five other young children to look after. We all have to sleep on the floor in the tent with many other families. It is noisy and dirty."
Marwa*, 5 months, at an IDP camp in Iraq. Marwa*s mother Ashna* and her father Salar* fled fighting in Mosul with their six young children.

Save the Children’s Deputy County Director Aram Shakaram says:

“The situation inside the reception center is extremely poor and there is a widespread shortage of food, water and blankets. Whole families sleep on nothing but cardboard, huddling together for warmth at night.

“Very young babies, many just days or weeks old are living in these conditions and their mothers, some who are as young as 15, are not getting the support they need.

“With 325,000 people still displaced since the Mosul offensive began and thousands still fleeing every day, it is imperative that we get more funding to support new mothers and their extremely vulnerable children who are starting their lives off in camps.”

Save the Children provides education and psychosocial support to children displaced from Mosul and our child protection teams work in the reception centers to identify cases needing urgent assistance, like unaccompanied minors.

Since the offensive began, we have distributed 3,740 newborn care packages, which have reached almost 11,500 infants. We have also distributed 7,000 rapid response kits that have reached almost 33,000 people and contain essentials like food, water and toiletries for the newly displaced. In addition we are also working to provide clean drinking water and basic sanitation to tens of thousands of people who have fled from Mosul.

To learn more about our response to the refugee crisis and how you can help, click here.

*Names changed for protection

Keeping a Baby Close to Your Heart

Alicia Adler

Program Officer at Save the Children Malawi

January 9, 2016

Imagine spending at least 20 hours a day, 7 days a week with a baby strapped to your chest. Imagine you must eat, sleep, work and care for your other children along with a tiny baby who depends on your continuous skin-to-skin contact and exclusive breastfeeding for survival. This is the basis of kangaroo mother care (KMC), a costeffective intervention to help meet a premature or low-birthweight babys basic needs for warmth, nutrition, stimulation and protection from infection.blog2

For Malawi, with the highest preterm birth rate in the world (18 per 100 live births), KMC is a critical lifesaving intervention. But too few premature babies receive KMC due to lack of awareness, limited resources, and stigma against both KMC and premature/low-birthweight infants. It is not surprising, then, that direct complications of preterm birth are the second leading cause of child deaths after pneumonia, and result in more than 14 newborn deaths every day in Malawi. 

To commemorate World Prematurity Day 2016 on November 17th, Save the Children staff in Malawi accepted the KMC Challenge. Participants practiced KMC with a baby doll for 24 hours – holding the doll throughout work hours, around town and at home for the night. The challenge was accepted by other partners across the country and globe.

Jessie Lwanda, an IT coordinator said, “By doing this challenge, we are saying, ‘let’s give these babies a chance to survive by showing them love and carrying them close to our heart.’”

I have a passion for every child to survive, said Mavis Khondiwa, a Save the Children grants coordinator based in the United States. Through this challenge I could understand what kind of burden those mothers with premature babies face. I really feel for them.

blog1Over the course of the day, 20 men and women got a glimpse into the life of a mother with a premature baby and all the issues it presents. Through what I experienced as a man doing the challenge, I think women need more help, said Nyashadzashe Kaunda, an awards management officer. Men should also be taking care of the child and helping throughout the whole KMC process, he said

At the end of the 24 hours, colleagues returned the dolls and resumed their normal lives. For women around the country, it isnt so easy, though, as their childs life depends on their continued commitment to practice KMC until the baby reaches a healthy weight. In a country where neonatal mortality accounts for 40 percent of all death in children under age 5, it is everyones responsibility to champion KMC, and not just on World Prematurity Day, but every day. 

Save the Children is helping shift norms around the value of newborns in Malawi through the government’s social and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaign, Khanda ndi Mphatso (A Baby is a Gift: Give it a Chance), helping establish KMC sites of excellence in district hospitals, and collaborating with the Ministry of Health to develop a national routine reporting system for KMC services in health facilities.

To learn more about our work to improve newborn survival, click here.

Alicia Adler is a program officer and Global Health Corps fellow with Save the Children in Malawi.

Serious Question at Mock Debate: Will African Union Leaders Keep Health Promises?


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Tanya Weinberg, S
ave the Children manager, media and communications

Kampala, Uganda

July 22, 2010

These days, the Hotel Africana in central Kampala is abuzz with conferences and events related to the African Union summit now underway. Outside the meeting rooms, lies a big grassy courtyard where all sorts of groups are holding receptions in view of the rolling hillsides of the city outskirts.  Around the corner, Ugandan officials are credentialing dignitaries, media, and other observers for the official summit, held some distance away at a resort on Lake Victoria.  

Happily, I received my credential, but instead of traveling to the official summit today, I decided to go upstairs and attend a mock presidential debate hosted by health and humanitarian organizations.    

Debate dancing  As people trickled in, the warm-up entertainment began. A group of young women and men danced their hearts out and got a festive mood going as they sang along with the “Yes we can” refrain of joyful music playing. The message was – if youth can keep their promises, so can leaders.     

Above the stage was a banner exhorting African leaders to keep their 2001 promise in Abuja, Nigeria to address the huge burden of disease on the continent by devoting 15 percent of national budgets to health. Only a handful of the 53 nations have fulfilled that promise to date. According to 2010 World Health Organization figures, only three countries are meeting the Abuja 15 percent standard, down from six the year before.      

Meanwhile, many African countries have seen slow or no progress in reducing the large number of preventable child and maternal deaths devastating their communities. This year, child and maternal health is the theme of the African Union summit.     

So it was fitting today when a large group of performers gathered around the stage to sing a catchy song with the refrain “The time is now.  The time is now. Abuja 15 percent now!”    

Several more performances followed, including a group of men holding young children and bundles that were supposed to be their babies. They told stories of losing wives and babies during childbirth, and
Debate dadsseemed to be challenging the audience to consider this question – why is it more surprising to see grown men nurturing babies and young children than to hear about maternal and child deaths?    

When the actual debate began the supposed presidents of Malawi and Botswana got to talk about how their countries have recently joined the ranks of only 10 African nations to be on track to meet Millennium Goal 4.  That goal is to reduce child mortality rates to two thirds of 1990 levels by 2015.     

The other presidents couldn’t say the same, and some even tried to argue against Abuja despite high disease rates in their countries. The supposed president of Nigeria, however, said “I think as heads of 
Debate debaters  state we can not make commitments and then begin to dance around and discard. We should keep our commitments!”    

It would be wonderful if the real African heads of state said the same thing when they meet Sunday through Tuesday at the summit. To save the lives of millions of African newborns, children, and mothers each year, the leaders must not only commit to strong actions, they must follow through.      

If a very poor country like Malawi can successfully put a plan of action in place and slash child deaths, there is really no excuse why countries across Africa cannot do the same.