In May 2017, Tropical Cyclone Donna tore through the northern provinces of Vanuatu, with torrential rains and winds of over 300 kilometres per hour – the strongest out-of-season cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere – destroying and damaging homes, crops, livestock and water systems, and forcing thousands of people into evacuation centres and caves.
Amid the chaos, a pregnant woman on the western coast of Santo Island died on her way to a health facility, in a region marked by particularly daunting terrain where the few clinics that do exist can only be accessed by boat, The United Nations Population Fund reports.
The rough seas and weather conditions triggered by the Category 5 cyclone prevented safe travel for several weeks.
In remote areas such as Santo Island and many others across the island-nations and territories that pepper the Pacific region, access to reproductive health services is heavily disrupted during crisis situations, often proving fatal for many women and girls that need this lifesaving support.
Disasters kill more women than men, reports says. On average, one in five women of childbearing age are likely to be pregnant when a crisis strikes. Of these, 15 percent will experience pregnancy-related complications, and many risk losing their lives if they can’t access proper health care. Although maternal mortality rates have decreased globally, women affected by humanitarian crises and living in fragile settings are disproportionately at risk – 60 percent of all maternal deaths globally occur in crisis and fragile settings.
The Pacific Sub- Regional Office of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with funding from the Australian Government, prioritises pre-positioning and immediate distribution of Reproductive Health Kits to support treatment of pregnancy-related complications, safe deliveries and post-rape care in crisis affected settings.
As well, UNFPA distributes culturally-customised Dignity Kits containing essential items such as sanitary napkins, underwear and flashlights to allow women and girls impacted by crises to maintain their personal hygiene and their dignity.
UNFPA also provides psychosocial support and referral services for survivors of gender-based violence and those who are at high risk.