Safe birth hope for refugees

Baby Carolina was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a room heated by one electric bar when charity workers first saw her in one of Azerbaijan’s refugee camps.

She was healthy, but Greta Beresford from the UK charity HealthProm said: “There was no modern equipment and complications during delivery may have been fatal. Conditions were woefully inadequate.”

She said the camps were “a muddy town of makeshift huts and tent-like dwellings with no surfaced roads.

“We were shown two very sparse clinics with hand-written public health posters on the walls.

“One of the clinics was a two-roomed maternity unit where we met Aziza and her baby girl Carolina, delivered that morning by local midwife, Dinara.”

Makeshift huts

HealthProm is aiming to help women like Aziza and her baby.

Medical facilities in the camps inhabited by refugees from Armenia, are basic, and while staff are dedicated and hard-working, there is little modern medical equipment.

Ms Beresford, Safe Childbirth Co-ordinator for HealthProm, told BBC News Online: “They are living in very poor conditions. They need a great deal of help in improving the health of mothers and babies.

“They live in makeshift huts made out of materials they have scavenged, such as corrugated iron - and some people have been there for 12 years.”

HealthProm is training local healthworkers, many of whom come from the refugee community themselves, giving them the skills they need to ensure women give birth to healthy babies.

They will be told how they can improve facilities and services within the refugee community and in local hospitals.

They will also be given guidance on providing essential basic equipment and materials for prenatal, childbirth and neonatal care.

New mothers will also be told the importance of breastfeeding their babies.

Ms Beresford said: “The mothers sometimes give their babies tea when they are three weeks old.”

The initiative should benefit a third of the 750,000 refugees in Azerbaijan from the ongoing conflict with neighbouring Armenia.

‘Sea of mud’

Ms Beresford added: “Buildings in the camps are usually over-crowded and have no running water or sewage systems.

“Electricity supplies are erratic. Unemployment is high and children receive little education. In winter, the camp becomes a sea of mud.”

“In addition to problems associated with childbirth, widespread diarrhoeal illnesses, respiratory infections, skin infestations and nutritional deficiencies undermine the health of already impoverished people.

“It is hoped that the programme will also address the basic healthcare needs of the population as a whole.”

Health strategy

Azerbaijan has been an independent republic since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

As a result of its conflict with Armenia the country has some 750,000 refugees to accommodate

Most live around Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

The three year programme, run by HealthProm, which carries out work across the former Soviet Union, and funded by GlaxoSmithKline is part of a national reproductive health strategy developed in conjunction with the Azerbaijan government.

GSK now plans to put ?220,000 into the “Safe Childbirth” initiative.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD