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Pregnant and Homeless in an IDP Camp (Part 1)

At a camp for internally displaced persons in Wassa, in the FCT, women await their turn to access reproductive and child health care. Photo: Hadiza AbdulRahman

Between 2014 and 2015, Boko-Haram insurgency in the north eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa led to the displacement of over 1.6 million people, who are taking refuge in other states, and in some cases, neighbouring countries like Cameroon, chad and Niger Republic.

This displacement has led to the establishment of many unregistered settlements, even in the FCT, according to the Federal Capital Territory Emergency Management Agency.

An overwhelming majority of these IDPs are women and children, who according to sources assessed, constitute more than 50 percent of the Internally Displaced Camps formation.

Pregnant women, caught up in this extreme violent situation, are more susceptible to life threatening conditions and UNFPA estimates that over 1.7 million women of reproductive age will require life-saving reproductive health services.

Nigeria has one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world and the risks are compounded for women and girls living through humanitarian crises, which undermine community support mechanisms and limit access to health facilities as is the case with pregnant women in Wassa and Durumi settlement in the Federal Capital Territory.

Wassa settlement

Statistics from the Federal Capital Territory, Emergency Management Agency, indicates that there are about 2380 displaced persons,  majority women, taking shelter at an uncompleted Federal Government Housing Estate in Wassa, a satellite town in the Federal Capital Territory, about twenty minutes’ drive from the city centre.

These shanties are without door and window coverings, leaving them to the mercy of extreme weather conditions, and thus more health hazards.

A woman looks on as others fetch water from a drying-up stream as the back them make-shift houses

The IDPs don’t have access to water for drinking or to provide for their livestock. Bathing is most times, a luxury a few can afford. A single borehole, the only source of clean water, is often out of commission.

Tiny rooms are crowded with many families, who lack toilet facilities, thereby resorting to open defecation, soiling an already extremely filthy environment.

Women who fall pregnant in these congested camps experience very difficult pregnancies.

The World Health Organization, WHO, recommends at least 4 antenatal visits, for pregnant women, most of these women do not have such opportunity in the settlement.

Lack of health care facilities is a major challenge in Wassa camp. The sole mobile clinic is wearing out; manned by a middle aged junior community health worker, Mrs Abigail Emmanuel, who admitted to being an untrained nurse. She is a volunteer to the clinic.

Challenges are overwhelming; drugs are not supplied regularly, the women do not even visit as their problems cannot be solved here”, Ms. Emmanuel said, explaining that, “we get still births due to our inability to take delivery of complicated case, and the women don’t have funds to be referred to a health facility”.

Even when we buy drugs to sell to them, most still complain of not being able to afford it and insist that the medication should be free. They even prefer to deliver in their makeshifts tents.

A mother clutches her sick son, who she said is malnourished and in dire need of medical attention

A nursing mother, Salamatu Isah, despite also having no training in nursing or mid-wife has been volunteering as a birth attendant in the mobile clinic.

She said many of the women are susceptible to bacterial infection due to the methods they deliver their babies and the lack of basic amenities.

“We do not have the money to go for antenatal, even for child birth so we help ourselves as those who tried to deliver in the hospital died in the process as they couldn’t even afford a bed, this place is quite a distance from town in times of emergency”, she said

The environment she is referring to is the lack of toilets, open defecation and the generally filthy environment.

Unavailability of care

35 year old Hauwa Muhammad from Gwoza in Borno state, found herself displaced and has been living in the camp since 2014. She had a miscarriage as due to the unavailability of care.

“They say the clinic is free, but when you go it’s not and the medical personnel are often not on ground and do not have friendly attitude”, she said

Aisha Abba, 25, from Bama, a boundary town with Gwoza, also in Borno state, who has also spent many years in Wassa settlement decried that the many pregnant women in the camp do not get ante-natal care and drugs from the clinic and if they have to visit any health facility outside the camp they need money.

“Despite our vulnerable condition, we have to give birth in our unhygienic tents, on the floor, she said.

20 year old Amina Umaru, clutching her sick son said; For three months now, his being  having diarrhea and vomiting and I cannot get him any mediation from the clinic….I don’t have money to sought for help elsewhere. I don’t have a job, feeding is a problem. We appeal to government to come to our aid, our children are malnourished and sick, and we are helpless”

Capacity to intervene

The Health Commandant in charge of IDPs in Abuja Municipal Area Council, Mr Mustapha Abdul-Kareem said the council had done everything within their capacity to intervene and sometimes, individuals donate to the camp.

He said they sometime have outbreak of diseases because of the poor sanitary condition, lamenting that despite a donation of drugs worth N2 million, the women at the camp refused it to be kept in the clinic but shared it amongst themselves

The Chairman, Wassa IDP settlement, Mr Usman Ibrahim, agreed that the drugs were sold once to meet their other pressing needs as most of them were farmers and needed to buy fertilisers, others he said bought food because they were starving.

“We lack health care, our women are suffering, back home we access Primary Health Centres, which they cannot afford here, the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons has even stopped given referrals, no food and see our dirty environment which had resulted to illness and deaths of our children, see our source of water; the borehole we have need electricity, we do not have money to buy fuel to use the electricity, he continued to rant in a throaty voice.

 Mr Ibrahim appealed for more assistance to improve their livelihood.

Hadiza Abdulrahman with support from Premium Times Center for Investigative Reporting and Free Press Unlimited.

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