Striving to balance between safety and health, Somalia’s internally displaced people (IDPs), now facing the worst drought in history, have often abandoned visits to far-flung health centres.
This week, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) launched mobile maternity clinics, targeting up to 375,000 people in Somalia’s regions hardest hit by drought. The aim is to follow women who need maternity services and to improve safe deliveries.
A statement from the UNFPA Somalia, the UN sexual and reproductive health (SRH) agency, said the five clinics are equipped with maternity ward instruments suitable to serve the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 expectant women displaced by the drought.
In Somalia, under normal circumstances, preventable maternal deaths are among the worst in the region, owing to the country’s long-term destruction of health facilities from civil war, and now under constant threats of terror gangs.
UNFPA estimates that more than 800 women die every day from causes related to pregnancy or childbirth, with at least two thirds of them in “humanitarian and fragile contexts.” The agency says those who survive live with serious or long-lasting consequences that are also “entirely preventable”.
Niyi Ojuolape, the UNFPA Country Representative in Somalia, said mobile clinics will fill a gap often seen when communities are displaced further from a health facility, saving more lives and ensuring the women are protected in times of crisis.
“The mobile maternity units will be a game-changer in addressing SRH needs in humanitarian crises, improving access to the hardest to reach and the marginalised populations, promoting equity in the humanitarian response,” he said after the clinics were launched on Monday in Mogadishu.
The five mobile maternity units will serve the capital Mogadishu and other regions including Beletweyne, Baidoa, Dollow and Kismayu.
Besides maternity, they will also bring contraceptives, to ensure women who were using special types continue with their routine of voluntary uptake. In a statement, UNFPA said this will “reduce the unmet need for family planning among the affected population. Furthermore, the maternity units will provide confidential and competent clinical management of rape to survivors of rape.”
Somalia is currently facing the longest and most severe drought in its history, with five consecutive failed rainy seasons. Attributed to climatic shocks, the drought has combined with conflict to displace at least 3.8 million people, with marginalised communities being affected the most, according to UNFPA.
A humanitarian needs overview (HNO) 2023 report for Somalia says only 39 percent of pregnant women who are displaced have access to antenatal care services and life-saving sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. At least 86 percent of the displaced pregnant women reported facing barriers in accessing health services, including distance or unavailability.
The clinics were procured with funding from donors including Sweden, Switzerland, Finland as well as Irish Aid, who form the Somalia Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF).
Mounted on trucks
The clinics are mounted on trucks with emergency obstetric and new-born care (EmONC) units and will move in areas where health facilities are absent and demand is high among populations affected by the humanitarian situation.
The Somali government sees the mobile maternity system as part of efforts to scale up humanitarian response in the country.
“Considering the prolonged conflict that has afflicted the Somali community, I believe that the introduction of mobile maternity clinics will prove to be a great help to mothers who lack access to traditional healthcare facilities,” said Dr Ali Haji Adam, the Federal Minister for Health, who received the units on behalf of the Federal Government of Somalia.
“This initiative is a great start and holds promise for a brighter future. We are happy to receive these mobile clinics from the UNFPA and the donors, as [they] address a real need,” he said at a handover ceremony that was also attended by Somali Disaster Management Agency.
Also present was Commissioner Mohamud Moalim Abdulle, and the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General Adam Abdelmoula, who also serves as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator.