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KONSO, Ethiopia—“I was discharged from the health facility after a stillbirth, without any medication or treatment. I have been bleeding ever since,” says Asnaketch, 25, from her tent in Haylota site for internally displaced persons in Konso, a town in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Region (SNNPR) in southwestern Ethiopia. 

Asnaketch and her husband are mourning the loss of their second baby – on top of the tragedy of losing their first child – after ethnic conflict broke out in their village, Gerchi, in Konso. The most recent conflict in the area occurred in November 2020, in which dozens of civilians were killed and more than 100,000 people displaced. 

I lost my first son due to a complication when we were fleeing and now, I've lost my second one.

“The village was burnt to the ground. When the clashes erupted, we had to move here. I lost my first son due to a complication when we were fleeing and now, I've lost my second one,” she says. 

More than 200,000 internally displaced people live in informal and sub-standard sites across the SNNP region, with limited access to basic services and life-saving health care.  

a bathroom with a sink and a bed
Medical equipment and beds in the emergency room at Segen Health Centre in Segen Town (Konso) are in a poor state. The centre was used as a prison during the conflict. © UNFPA Ethiopia

The nearest health facility is a gruelling two hours' trek from Haylota IDP camp through the mountainous terrain. “They carried me on a wooden stretcher all the way. It was very difficult for me. I knew something was wrong with my baby,” Asnaketch says of her experience. 

Women and newborns at risk

Reproductive health services in the region were overstretched even before the conflict-induced humanitarian situation, which put more than 2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Health services have been hit by a shortage of service providers, lack of supplies and equipment, and damage to facilities due to the conflict. 

More women have lost their babies in the last (few) months. This is an enormous yet overlooked tragedy.

Like Asnaketch, many families in the camp have mourned the loss of a loved one. “More women have lost their babies in the last (few) months. This is an enormous yet overlooked tragedy,” says an official at Haylota IDP site whose identity is not being revealed, for their protection. 

“Ensuring basic emergency obstetric and newborn care is a challenge. We can’t provide assisted vaginal delivery, either. There is no medication, equipment, or even mattresses,” said the manager of Segen Health Centre during a rapid assessment conducted by UNFPA in the area. 

Despite the critical importance of antenatal and postnatal care services in reducing maternal and newborn mortality and morbidity, services are minimal or nil as a result of the conflict, placing mothers and newborns at grave risk. 

Thousands of women and girls in need of support

Across the SNNPR, more than 110,000 women are pregnant, and an estimated 17,000 will experience some form of obstetric complication, with potentially deadly consequences. 

Last year, UNFPA supported 17 health facilities with Emergency Reproductive Health Kits, capacity development training for medical staff, and two ambulances to strengthen the referral system to manage obstetric complications in the conflict-affected Gedeo and West Guji zones in SNNP and Oromia regions respectively. In addition, UNFPA established One-Stop Centres and 10 Adolescent and Youth Corners to ensure the provision of youth-friendly integrated SRH services. 

Despite all efforts to increase the coverage of maternal and reproductive health services, more support is needed to respond to the needs of women and girls affected by conflict and climate-related shocks in the region. 

I survived. There is a lot to be grateful for.

The UNFPA Humanitarian Response appeal of nearly $20 million will support the strengthening of the health system and building back capacities on maternal and reproductive health services in SNNP and seven other crisis-affected regions in the country, through the end of 2022. To date, 76 per cent of the humanitarian appeal remains unfunded. 

For Asnaketch, the loss of her baby was an agonizing experience, yet her family is grateful for the second chance at life she has been blessed with. “I am alive. I survived. There is a lot to be grateful for,” she says.