New mothers, babies face health hazards

Kathmandu, June 27: Pregnant women, new mothers and newborns living in makeshift tents in Tundikhel have been badly affected by scorching summer and monsoon.

The infants are more vulnerable to harsh weather, and noise and air pollution. Strong winds have repeatedly uprooted the makeshift tents, adding to the woes of the lactating mothers.

Radhika Paudyal, 28, of Ramechhap has been living in a makeshift tent with her family of five, including a three-month-old. “The makeshift tents and temporary corrugated zinc sheet shelters are not infant and new mother friendly. The corrugated zinc sheet shelter traps heat, as a result temperatures soar, making new mothers and newborns vulnerable to serious health complications,” said Paudyal.

When it’s not heat, it’s rain that causes the problem. The rainwater constantly trickles through tarpaulin tents. The mothers and babies are at risk of falling sick.

“My baby usually suffers from cough and gets panicked during the thunder and lightning. She wakes up shocked and terrified by the sound of those frightening thunders,” she said. The United Nations Population Fund and Women’s Rehabilitation Centre Nepal have established health camps to provide preliminary medical treatments and counselling to lactating mothers in Tundikhel.

Jiban Kumari Bhattarai, a psycho-social counsellor with WOREC Nepal, informed that about 12 new mothers were benefiting from the free medical treatment, nutritional baby formula, yoga, oil massage and psycho-social counselling.

“The makeshift tents can shelter people but are not the ultimate solution to protect them, especially new mothers, infants and sick, from the harsh weather and diseases,” Bhattarai suggested.

Besides the climatic challenges, the issue of sanitation and personal hygiene is another serious concern in Tundikhel for the pregnant women, new mothers and babies. “The water supply is not sufficient as it should have been for washing, sanitation and hygiene for them,” she said. The UNFPA had distributed ‘dignitary kits’, including reusable sanitary pads, underwear, petticoat, maxi, blouse, saree, sweater, shawl, towel, flash lights, soaps, comb, nail cutter, tooth brush, tooth paste and bags to the pregnant mothers last month. Shanti Gurung, 23, of Nuwakot, a mother of two-month-old baby said washing soaps, bathing soap, toothpaste, napkins and sanitary pads what she had are all used up.

“The soaps, napkins, toothpaste and sanitary pads were enough for only two weeks. I wish the UNFPA and other organisations could arrange for more for the personal hygiene of pregnant mothers in the makeshifts,” she said.

A rough estimation provided by the UNFPA and hospitals shows that nearly 1,000 new babies were born after the April 25 earthquake and hundreds are still in makeshift camps. More than two million women and girls of reproductive age, and some 126,000 pregnant women are among the affected and are in the instant need of instant delivery place and materials.