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

No Birth Should Be Left Up to Chance

This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post

 

Giving birth ranks among the scariest moments for any mother. It certainly was for me. I was living in Hong Kong at the time when my second of three children was born. And he was born in a hurry. He came so fast that I actually thought I’d give birth in our car on the way to the hospital! Fortunately, that didn’t happen and I safely delivered my son Patrick surrounded by a team of well-trained doctors and nurses, not to mention my loving (and relieved!) husband by my side.

2014-02-24-COVER_RS35804__MG_0708retouched.jpg

 

But I’m one of the lucky ones.

 

As new research released today by Save the Children reveals, 40 million women give birth without any trained help whatsoever. What’s more, 2 million women give birth entirely alone.

 

I met one

A Mom’s Best Or Worst Day

The following blog first appeared on The Huffington Post.

_______________________

Every day, thousands of women celebrate one of life’s most amazing experiences — becoming a mother. But every 30 seconds a mother’s first moments with her baby are cut short, on the very day she gives birth.

 

Until now, we didn’t know how common this heartbreaking experience is in the United States and around the world. But Save the Children’s new report shows that one million babies die the day they are born.

 

State of the World’s Mothers 2013: Surviving the First Day also shows that today we have the evidence and cost-effective tools to save up to three quarters of newborn babies, without intensive care.

Read Article

Kampala Notebook: What African Union Promises Could do for Mothers and Children

Chikezie Chikezie Anyanwu, Save the Children's Africa Advocacy Advisor

Kampala, Uganda

July 28, 2010

Today I’m recovering from the last three days marathon of the heads of state meeting at the African Union summit.  With the theme of “Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and Development in Africa,” this summit offered the perfect chance to muster major action to save the lives of millions of children and mothers.    

I’m sorry to say that although Africa has around 12 percent of the world’s population, half the world’s child and maternal deaths occur here.  So there’s much work to be done.   

A few days ago, I wrote here what Save the Children and many other advocates and experts were calling on our leaders to deliver at this summit.  I’m happy to report good news.  African heads of state have issued a declaration on that includes many commitments we believe are necessary to dramatically reduce the annual 4.5 million child deaths and 265,000 maternal deaths on the continent.    

On the resources question, the leaders recommitted themselves to meeting their 2001 promise in Abuja to devote 15 percent of their national budgets to health.  In reality, few countries have reached this goal as of yet.  In the last budget year only three did—Rwanda, Tanzania, and Liberia—and that’s down from six countries the year before.  So I’m happy that African leaders recognize they must continue to chase this goal, and not just push it aside.  Prioritizing health funding is central to results in maternal, newborn and child health.    

The leaders also promised to strengthen their health systems “to provide comprehensive, integrated maternal, newborn, and child health care services.”  They listed several important strategies, including addressing the health worker shortage as we had called for.     

The leaders themselves called the current situation a “human resource crisis.”  They pledged to train community health workers to help fill the gap.  That’s good policy because you don’t need a huge amount of money or time to train these workers, and they can deliver most of the services needed to save mothers and children’s lives.  Also, these workers come from the community and, especially when they are women, they can reach mothers and children who are isolated from existing health services.     

However, I’ll point out that while community health workers can deliver lifesaving prenatal and Afr new born healthpostnatal care, and prevention and treatment for leading child killers pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria, they cannot necessarily provide skilled attendance at birth.  That’s also critical to saving mothers’ and newborns’ lives.  So African nations must also look at ways to increase the number of midwives, nurses, and doctors—and work to retain these professionals.     

Another major concern of Save the Children and partners has been around making sure health services reach all women and children.  Too often, poorer mothers and children don’t have the same access to health care (and thus survival) as better-off compatriots.  So I was very pleased to see the leaders pledge to reduce out-of-pocket payments and to single out a strategy we’ve pushed for—making health care for pregnant women and children under 5 free.     

The final pieces of good news that came out of the Summit was the decision to institute a strong and functional monitoring and evaluation framework at national level for data generation, the establishment of a continental task force on Maternal, newborn and child health as well as commitment to an annual report to the AU assembly moving forward on Maternal, newborn and child mortality. This should help hold governments accountable for their delivery on maternal, newborn and child mortality interventions.       

If the leaders follow through on what they’ve pledged in Kampala, you can be certain that many more African children and mothers will survive and go on to lead healthy, productive lives.  That’s good for families, communities, and the very future of the continent.    

So there’s the question of that word “if.”      

In the closing ceremony last night, President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi implored his fellow leaders to act on the declarations they had passed.    

He said: “The time has come for us is to go for action, so that our people are able to see and appreciate the tangible results and benefits that this organization will bring to them.  I believe that we have the means, and we have the political will to do so.  Let us use these means and the political will to show to our people and the rest of the world that indeed we mean to move the economic and social transformation of our continent.”    

Amen to that!    

I hope African heads of state will heed Bingu’s words, because they are the ones with the power to transform promises into action.  If the political will is indeed there, African mothers, newborns, and children will stop dying of preventable causes.  So let’s continue to raise our voices, and do our part to build and sustain that political will!