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Restoring Reproductive Health Access for Millions in Boko Haram-Affected Areas

By: Lolade Daniel, Communication Analyst, United Nations Population Fund

ABUJA, Nigeria – A brutal attack by Boko Haram forced Zainab Abubakar, 28, and her six children to flee their home in northern Nigeria. “I was one month pregnant when I left Gamboru Ngala,” Ms. Abubakar told UNFPA from the Dalori displacement camp in Maiduguri. “During my escape, I lost my pregnancy.”

Ms. Abubakar’s tragic miscarriage took place in 2014, but the Boko Haram crisis continues to drive women and girls from their homes – and from access to basic health care.

An estimated 26 million people live in conflict-affected areas of Nigeria, according to the 2017 Humanitarian Needs Overview, and some 14 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. In the three states worst affected by the insurgency – Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – some 1.64 million people have been displaced from their homes, according to recent UN reports.

Dr. Osotimehin with a woman and her newborn at a health facility in Maiduguri, Borno State. Access to reproductive health care can mean the difference between life or death, he said. © UNFPA Nigeria

UNFPA estimates that, among the vulnerable population, 1,725,000 women of reproductive age will require life-saving reproductive health services in 2017.

“For women and girls – especially pregnant women, who may face life-threatening childbirth complications, as well as lactating women, caring for newborns throughout the chaos – whether they live or die in a crisis often depends on their access to basic sexual and reproductive health services,” said Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of UNFPA, during a recent mission to northern Nigeria.

Restoring access to reproductive health care

Nigeria has one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world. The risks are compounded for women and girls living through humanitarian crises, which undermine community support mechanisms and limit access to health facilities.

UNFPA is working to reach people whose lives have been turned upside down by the Boko Haram insurgency. There is ongoing support to 155 health facilities and clinics in Adamawa, Borno and Yorbe states, reaching 1.2 million people. Some 300,000 people were reached in October and November of 2016 alone.

UNFPA supports over 150 health facilities in the three states worst affected by the Boko Haram crisis. © UNFPA Nigeria

UNFPA supplies these facilities with comprehensive reproductive health kits, which contain: contraceptives; equipment for prenatal care, safe childbirth and postnatal care; supplies to treat sexually transmitted diseases and to prevent HIV; and supplies to support the clinical management of rape.

These efforts are part of a broader plan to restore access to essential reproductive health services to about 4.5 million people affected by the crisis.

UNFPA is also raising awareness of the need to end gender-based violence, and it is supporting safe spaces, where women and girls can learn income-generating skills such as sewing, soap-making and cooking.

Family planning, peace of mind

Family planning counselling and services are also offering peace of mind.

“We are in a situation here. We are always afraid, running from one place to another,” said Baba Tijani. He and his wife were displaced by the crisis shortly after being married. Today, they are living in the Dalori displacement camp, where they receive family planning services at a UNFPA-supported health facility.

“I do not want my wife to be weighed down, so we are accessing family planning services,” he told UNFPA.

Maryam Yusuf, a single mother, says she also needs that security. “My first pregnancy was at the age of 13, and within seven years, I had six children.”

UNFPA is working with humanitarian partners to increase access to care and support for conflict-affected women and girls. © UNFPA Nigeria

She is also living in the Dalori camp, receiving UNFPA-supported family planning services. “With no home or stable job, I am afraid of having more children until I am financially ready and my body is strong,” she said.

Redoubling efforts

During his mission, Dr. Osotimehin met with the Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, as well as traditional leaders and institutions. His trip focused on advocating the importance of reproductive health care for crisis-affected women and girls.

“Our aim is to redouble efforts to ensure that their right to access health care is protected and that the Government has all the support they need to overcome overwhelming challenges,” Dr. Osotimehin said.

This post originally appeared on the UNFPA website.

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