Pregnant women caught in floods in Pakistan desperately need medical help

Fahmidah, a flood-affected pregnant woman, holds medicine near her tent at a makeshift camp along a railway line in Fazilpur, Rajanpur district of Punjab province. AFP

With a swollen stomach, sore feet and her four-year-old daughter in tow, Fahmidah Bibi is keeping tabs on a doctor who is rumored to be heading to the campsite she now calls home, after being forced to flee his village because of the floods.

The camp, located within the grounds of a small railway station on the outskirts of Fazilpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province, is the only high ground in a waterscape and can accommodate around 500 people.

Among them is Fahmidah, 40, who arrived with her five children just over a week ago, as well as her husband’s relatives. “I need a doctor or a midwife. What if something happens to my child? Fahmidah, nine months pregnant and giving birth overnight, told AFP over the weekend.

Pregnant Woman-Fazilpur- Fahmidah sits with her daughter in her tent in a makeshift camp alongside a railway line in Rajanpur. AFP

More than 33 million people in Pakistan have been affected by the floods, triggered by record monsoon rains that also claimed at least 1,300 lives, according to government data.

The UN Population Fund said at least 128,000 pregnant women in flood-affected areas were in urgent need of care, with 42,000 expected to give birth in the next three months.

Fahmidah’s last visit to a doctor was a month ago, and according to her report – which she keeps on hand with a prescription for a drug she cannot afford – her baby is in a breech position.

She sleeps outdoors, sharing a traditional wooden charpoy bed with her five children, ages four to 12. The makeshift resort’s sprawling campsite is home to at least five other pregnant women. They all complain about the lack of female doctors and midwives to help them.

perilous journey

Most of the women resisted examination by volunteer male doctors who accompanied the aid convoys. In conservative Pakistan, it is often considered inappropriate for women to visit male doctors, especially for gynecological issues.

Desperate for attention, Fahmidah tried to cross flooded fields to reach the town for help, but slipped and fell several times and finally gave up.

Fahmida-pregnant Fahmidah sits with her children near her tent in a makeshift camp along a railway line. AFP

She pales at the thought of giving birth at the campsite, where stranded villagers and their cattle live side by side with no sanitation.

The buzz of flies and mosquitoes is incessant, as is the stench of the surrounding murky brown water, filled with rotting vegetation and excrement.

“I haven’t prepared anything for the baby’s arrival,” Fahmidah said. “I don’t even have nappies. Everything was swept away by the flood.”

Like Fahmidah, five-month-pregnant Saira Bibi desperately needs a doctor – she feels shooting pains on the side of her stomach.

At just 25, Saira already has four daughters, but is under pressure from her husband and family to have a son. He threatened to have another wife if she failed him again.

pakistanflood-pregnant-saira Saira Bibi sits with her children in her tent in a makeshift camp in Rajanpur

“I had a son after four daughters, but he died,” she told AFP, adding that she then underwent fertility treatment for ten months to get pregnant again.

Now, her desperate situation has jeopardized her chances of carrying this pregnancy to term.

As Saira prays for a successful delivery of a healthy boy, Fahmidah already knows she is going to give birth to a son. She has decided to name him Ali Raza and hopes that he will become an important government official and take her on a pilgrimage. “I know he will take his mother to Makkah,” she said.

France Media Agency