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QAYYARAH, Iraq – With military operations underway to retake Mosul from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS or Daesh), thousands of civilians have fled and displacement is expected to rapidly escalate. The humanitarian response could be the "largest and most complex in the world in 2016," according to UN figures, with 1.2 to 1.5 million people affected.

UNFPA estimates that among this population, 250,000 to 300,000 could be women of reproductive age requiring reproductive health services and care for gender-based violence.

Mona* safely gave birth at a UNFPA-supported maternity unit after ISIL was ousted from the town of Qayyarah. © UNFPA Iraq/Turchenkova

“[Internally displaced women], while fleeing for safety, are often cut off from accessing reproductive health care,” Ramanathan Balakrishnan, UNFPA’s representative in Iraq, told reporters. “For pregnant women, this risk can become a life-or-death scenario.”

Since the start of the operation on 17 October, UNFPA has been providing emergency reproductive health care and services for affected women and girls.

“A new beginning”

Women and girls are in urgent need of care, with many having gone without health services for the duration of ISIL’s occupation.

In Qayyarah, a newly liberated town 30 km south of Mosul, women’s health services were effectively unavailable during ISIL control. The town lacked medical supplies and staff, and restrictions to women’s movement meant they were unable to receive needed care.

The town’s only hospital was torched by ISIL militants as they were being ousted two months ago – part of what has been described as a “scorched earth policy.” 

The United Nations Environment Programme has called ISIL's destruction a "scorched earth policy." Oil wells burn in Qayyarah. © OCHA/ Themba Linden

Since then, UNFPA has provided supplies and personnel for a delivery unit at the Qayarra Primary Healthcare centre, which is now serving civilians fleeing the operations in Mosul. Since 17 October, the delivery room has conducted 25 deliveries.

“I am so happy that my son was born after Qayyarah was liberated from ISIL,” Muna* said after giving birth to a boy, Najem.

Najem was one of the first babies born after the town’s liberation. His name means “star,” which Muna says “represents a new beginning for what we hope to be a better future.”

“I am so grateful to have our health facilities re-opened. Now I can resume my job,” said Dr. Kawther*, the gynaecologist who delivered Najem.

“Now, we have the capability to provide safe deliveries to women, who otherwise would have been at risk,” the doctor added.

Najm’s grandmother celebrates his birth with medical staff. © UNFPA Iraq/Turchenkova

Scaling up response

As part of its response to the Mosul operations, UNFPA has positioned 25 mobile reproductive health teams and established or strengthened 20 maternal health facilities. The clinics can provide gynaecological services, family planning care, antenatal care, safe delivery services and post-natal care.

UNFPA has also mobilized 23 mobile teams to provide psychosocial support, emergency case management and referrals for survivors of gender-based violence.

UNFPA has already provided over 2,000 reproductive health consultations in Qayyarah, Hajj Ali and I’jhala since the start of military operations.

Health workers in surrounding provinces are also being trained in emergency reproductive health responses, and social workers are receiving training to provide sensitive care to survivors of gender-based violence.

Tens of thousands of dignity kits – containing soap, menstrual pads, clothing and other supplies – are being procured for distribution.

*Names changed for safety and privacy

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