10 October 2017

Reproductive health in the Bangladesh floods

Author(s) Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett, University of Leicester

Many parts of South Asia are experiencing heavy floods due to extreme monsoon rains, and Bangladesh is no exception. About 8.5 million people have been affected and 142 lives lost according to the CNN (20 in Bangladesh).

It is the worst flooding this nation has experienced in 100 years. Our project’s ‘Exploring Challenges and Opportunities for Reproductive Health in Disasters’ research location in Sirajganj District in Bangladesh is one of the worst affected areas.

Villages in Belkuchi Upazila within Sirajganj have been deserted as the water has submerged the entire location due to the rise of the Jamuna River’s water level. These floods are severely affecting a lot of people but it is especially a concern for women who are pregnant.

Diseases, infections, stress, transport, clean drinking water, food, access to safe and timely healthcare facilities – to name but a few – are real issues and challenges that pregnant women face during floods.

A project led by the University of Leicester and our collaborating partners, the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s South Asia Region Office and local partners, medically trained ten health service providers (1 Medical Officer, 3 Nurses and 6 Female Welfare Visitors) prior to the monsoon season to improve the sexual and reproductive healthcare services in Sirajganj District during floods. Additionally, a two-day training Orientation Programme was held for 90 different health service providers to raise awareness on safe and unsafe reproductive health practices.

The project team also positioned UNFPA’s Reproductive Health Kit 8 in Belkuchi’s Upazila Union Health Complex and in two Union Health & Family Welfare Centers. Reproductive Health Kits 8 are used to treat the complications arising from miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) and from unsafe induced abortion. A single Reproductive Health Kit 8 can cater for the estimated needs of 30,000 people for 3 months. Reproductive Health Kits 8 have never been positioned in Bangladesh before because reproductive health matters are often not a matter of priority for national governments. Also, the UN and UNFPA failed to make the national governments accountable for not keeping up to the pledges taken for universal access to reproductive health care services at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994. So far, 22 women have directly benefited from this intervention.

Furthermore, our trained Family Welfare Visitors have facilitated the implementation of the Reproductive Health Kits at the Union Health & Family Welfare Centers, which are the lowest unit of the health system for the rural population. An assessment of this intervention will be conducted after the recession of the flood water.

Funded by International Planned Parenthood Federation’s (IPPF) ‘Innovation Programme’ and IPPF-South Asia Region Office’s (SARO) ‘SPRINT Initiative’.

Dr Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett is Lecturer in Risk Management at the University of Leicester. Her research interests include: health security, reproductive health, gender mainstreaming, soft systems approach, early warning systems, critical reflective practices, disaster risk reduction and disaster risk management. She is the author of Caste, Class and Gender in Multiple Disasters (2009, VDM Verlag) and Avoidable Deaths (2017, Springer Nature).

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