Among Afghanistan refugees, complications from childbirth and pregnancy are the leading cause of death for women.
Both men and women suffer during war, but some health impacts of conflict are gender-specific, meaning they impact one gender more than another. While men are more likely to suffer the health consequences of direct violence through combat, women and girls endure the effects of increased sexual violence, hunger and exploitation in refugee camps, high rates of HIV/AIDS, and limited access to health services.
- 50% of refugees are women and girls.
One of the most important areas of healthcare neglected during conflict is reproductive health. This includes services such as access to condoms, treatment of sexually transmitted infections and gynecological complications, pre- and post-natal care, assisted delivery, and emergency obstetric care. Even the most basic materials for clean childbirth are often unavailable during times of conflict, and this can be a death sentence for women who must give birth in unsanitary conditions. The absence of reproductive health services is especially dangerous during crisis situations because this is precisely the time when the rates of premature deliveries, miscarriages brought on by trauma, and unsafe abortions resulting from unwanted pregnancies tend to increase.
- The high rate of death during childbirth in the Democratic Republic of Congo - 2,000 deaths per 100,000 births—reveals the impact of armed conflict.
- Post-abortion problems account for 25-50% of maternal refugee deaths.
Case Study: Iraq
Iraq has experienced more than a decade of conflict, beginning with the 1991 Gulf War and continuing with the current US-led war that began in 2003. The effect of war and international sanctions on the country’s healthcare system has had a particularly harmful effect on women’s health services, especially reproductive health. In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in maternal mortality, as pregnant women are not receiving the emergency help for complications during childbirth.
- Rates of death during pregnancy have tripled since the late 1980s, from 117 deaths per 100,000 live births to 370.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), displaced Iraqi women face an increased risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and complications of pregnancy and childbirth. This situation is exacerbated by the lack of access to reproductive healthcare.
- In April 2003, a maternity hospital in the city of Kirkuk was operating at only 25% of its normal capacity.
- As a result of the efforts of the UNFPA, the number of facilities providing reproductive health services increased from 37 in 1995 to 146 in 2001.
Want to Learn More?
1. ICRC: Women, War, and International Humanitarian Law
2. Human Rights Watch: Women