UNFPA Aid to Iraqi Women

Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Western Asia

War or no war, more than 2,000 Iraqi women give birth every day.

Like all expectant mothers, these women need adequate nutrition and access to vitamins, medicines and antenatal care to deliver safely. Even in the best of circumstances, more than 300 of these women would need emergency obstetric care.

But over a decade of war and international sanctions have caused severe damage to the Iraqi health care system, leaving the country with limited access to medicines, equipment and supplies. This decline, combined with increasing poverty and poor nutrition, has had serious health consequences for Iraqi women and children. Maternal mortality and infant mortality have more than doubled. More than half of Iraqi women are anaemic, a quarter of babies are born with dangerously low birth weights, and there has been a sharp rise in birth defects and infant deaths.

Reproductive health indicators for Iraq: 1989 2002
Total population in millions 17.3 24.2
Maternal Mortality Ratio (per 100,000 live births) 160 370
Infant Mortality Rate (per 1,000) 52 108

The outbreak of war-and the resulting interruption of food distribution, access to water and electricity, and other supply lines-is now making the situation even worse, further endangering the lives of Iraqi women and their babies.

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is committed to ensuring that pregnant women in Iraq can give birth safely in a clean environment and receive emergency obstetric care if needed.

"Women will now face increased risks," said UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid in a recent statement. "We must do all we can to alleviate suffering and hardship and save lives."

Women and conflict

Two recent UN studies-an independent experts' assessment, and a report by the Secretary-General - illustrate some of the ways that women are disproportionately affected by war.

Combined with the high rates of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorders suffered by a large part of the war-affected population, these factors could have serious consequences on the physical and psychological health of Iraqi women, requiring interventions to help families and communities cope.

UNFPA in Iraq

UNFPA has been active in Iraq since 1972. As a result of its efforts, the number of facilities providing reproductive health services increased from 37 in 1995 to 146 in 2001.

Over the past several months, UNFPA has stepped up its efforts to safeguard the reproductive health of Iraqi women and their families, and to make special preparations for humanitarian assistance in the event of war.

As a part of extensive contingency planning before the conflict, UNFPA and its partners recruited and trained personnel and positioned essential maternal health supplies both inside Iraq and in potential refugee settings in neighbouring countries.

Since January, the Fund has delivered reproductive health equipment, supplies and essential medicine to health facilities in 15 Iraqi governorates, including facilities run by the Iraqi Family Planning Association and women's NGOs. Emergency medical equipment has also been delivered to key sites in neighbouring countries.

In June and July 2003, two shipments were delivered by UNFPA, to key maternity hospitals and primary healthcare centres in Baghdad.

When the situation permits, UNFPA and its partners will step up efforts to increase access to antenatal care and emergency obstetric care inside Iraq, to reduce maternal deaths and neo-natal deaths.