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A displaced mother’s safe delivery embodies hope for Syria’s future

Om Mehi Eddin holds newborn daughter Sham, safely delivered with the help of a UNFPA-supported mobile medical team serving evacuees from Eastern Ghouta. © UNFPA Syria

EASTERN GHOUTA, Syria – A surge in violence in Eastern Ghouta since February has forced the evacuation of over 158,000 people, leaving many with serious unmet protection and medical needs.

The evacuees have been sent to a number of locations, with some placed in temporary shelters, schools and warehouses not adequately equipped to house people or keep them safe.

“Shelters are overcrowded and lack suitable latrines, washing facilities and sufficient lighting,” said UNFPA Representative Massimo Diana at Adra Shelter after a UNFPA assessment mission in March. “Many families are restricting the movement of women and girls out of fear for their safety.”

Many of the displaced people have unmet reproductive health needs – with many having lost access to medical care even before they were forced to flee. “Before they left Eastern Ghouta, there was no electricity, no hospitals, no doctors – the doctors escaped also – so no one could serve them,” said Dr. Hala Al Khayer, a reproductive health expert for UNFPA who visited the shelters and surrounding areas.

As the emergency in Eastern Ghouta continues, displaced residents arrive at Adra Shelter. © UNFPA Syria

Displacement has only exacerbated the hardship. “We met a lot of pregnant women who safely arrived in the collective shelters but face limited medical services,” Dr. Al Khayer added.

“I called her Sham because I love my country”

After she fled her home in Douma, pregnant Om Mehi Eddin was settled in the Fayhaa Al Sham temporary shelter.

When the time came, the 36-year-old mother of five gave birth with the help of a UNFPA-supported Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) mobile medical team, who helped her get to a hospital in Damascus.

The SARC general health mobile clinic is one of three mobile clinics serving the shelter’s residents. Operated by local partners and deployed with UNFPA support, the clinics address the medical needs of pregnant women as well as other evacuees. The two other clinics – operated by the Monastery of Saint James the Mutilated and the Syrian Family Planning Association– specialize in sexual and reproductive health.

“They saved my life and my baby as well,” Om Mehi Eddin told UNFPA communication expert Kinda Katranji.

Om Mehi Eddin named her child Sham – one of the Arabic names for Syria. “I called her Sham because I love my country a lot, and hope that peace will prevail soon,” she explained.

Health and safety amid displacement

As part of the ongoing response to the humanitarian emergency in Syria, UNFPA and its partners are providing sexual and reproductive health and protection services to Eastern Ghouta evacuees.

“UNFPA Syria is on the ground to meet the dire needs and to respond to the rapidly changing situation in the Eastern Ghouta area,” said Mr. Diana.

Over 132,800 people in the area have been reached with reproductive health services, including gynecological consultations, family planning, and the distribution of over 115,300 sanitary napkins, including as part of 10,000 dignity kits that also contain other key hygiene items for women and girls. More than 7,300 male dignity kits have been distributed as well. Pregnant women are receiving antenatal care, including supplements and ultrasound diagnostics, referral for deliveries, comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal care, and post-natal care.

At Fayhaa Al Sham shelter, UNFPA and partners assess the needs of Eastern Ghouta evacuees and provide sexual and reproductive health and protection services. © UNFPA Syria

UNFPA and its partners have also reached over 86,400 people with services related to gender-based violence, to raise awareness while providing women and girls with psychosocial support and referral to further health, mental health and legal support.

These services fulfil critical needs for health, hygiene and safety among people who have endured violence, displacement and the loss of even the simplest comforts. “Women have barely had a shower for almost one month,” said Ms. Katranji, “and children are just dreaming of having a glass of milk and a biscuit.”

For Om Mehi Eddin, the support, supplies and care provided by UNFPA and partners are making a difference. Once a week, she takes her baby daughter to the UNFPA-supported mobile clinic for a checkup and to receive vitamins and medicine.

“We left our homes and all our memories; we barely have our own clothes,” she said, “but now Sham and I are safe and healthy.”