Blind, pregnant, and forced to flee gunfire in South Sudan

15 May 2017
Rose Mary Akello, midwife on duty at Padibe Health Centre IV, hands Annet Night a UNFPA dignity kit to restore hope to the new mum. © UNFPA Uganda / Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi

LAMWO, Uganda – Annet Night could not see but could hear the roar of gunfire and loud screams filling the air. The 42-year-old was expecting her fourth child when conflict broke out in her village, Pajok, in Eastern Equatoria state, South Sudan.

Ms. Night is visually impaired. Away from her husband, who was working in Juba, she felt frightened and vulnerable.

“There was shooting everywhere. I was very scared and heard that many people were being shot. I was only thinking about my unborn child,” she says.

I was very scared and heard that many people were being shot. I was only thinking about my unborn child.

Pregnant and on a perilous journey

With support from one of her daughters, the expectant mother set out on a journey to escape the conflict. They were 39 kilometres south of Magwi, near the border with Uganda.

It took them three days of walking to reach Ngoromoro border post, where Ms. Night was identified by a UNFPA partner, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), for urgent medical attention. The IRC rushed her to the nearby Ngoromoro Health Centre II and here, they ensured she had a safe delivery.

Ms. Night was then referred to Padibe Health Centre IV for better care, as her newborn baby had developed an infection from the reception centre, according to the midwife on duty, Rose Mary Akello.

Ms. Night was kept in the post-natal ward, with her baby by her side, wrapped in a warm blanket. With the care provided at the health centre, Night knew that her baby would soon be out of danger.

“I have named him Obedi, meaning ‘God protect my baby’,” she says, stretching her hand out to touch him as he sleeps.

UNFPA restores dignity and hope

Her face lit up when the midwife announced the presence of the UNFPA emergency response team. To help restore a semblance of hope, she was handed a ‘dignity kit’ containing a bar of soap, baby shawl, baby vest, underwear, t-shirt, slippers, cotton wool and a bucket.

During humanitarian emergencies, one in five women of childbearing age is likely to be pregnant. And Ms. Night is one example of how the impact of conflict and other disasters on reproductive health can be devastating, particularly for women and young girls.

The provision of dignity kits is an important component of UNFPA’s humanitarian response support to pregnant women. In Lamwo district, 300 kits were dispatched recently to support pregnant women and assist safe delivery amid the crisis.

UNFPA responds to needs of South Sudanese refugees

The renewed outbreak of fighting in South Sudan has triggered further displacement and led to an influx of refugees into Uganda. More than 3,000 people have fled to Uganda’s Lamwo district. Here, an identified 11 mothers had delivered during the emergency – two of them while en route to Uganda, one at the transit centre, and the remainder at Ngoromoro Health Centre II.

Without access to reproductive health services, pregnant women face an increased risk of life-threatening complications. Those using family planning often lose access to this, exposing them to unwanted pregnancies in perilous conditions. Women and young people also become more vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and HIV infection. Besides, the hygiene needs of women and girls are often neglected.

UNFPA in Uganda provides specific reproductive health interventions for women, adolescents and youth in times of crises, including HIV response, as well as gender-based violence prevention and response.

By Evelyn Matsamura Kiapi