Taking reproductive health care to the women: reaching women where they are

23 March 2016

Salote Naisau is a 32-year-old Malake woman expecting her third child who is due to make his entrance into this world on March 27, and being due this month means she has to come to the main referral hospital of her Ra Province every week.

Ms Naisau must catch as early a boat as possible from her Malake island, she would have been lucky if one of the village fishermen was planning on coming to the main land, to be in time for the school bus as one of the more regular bus services.

It would have been a return to the island with a difference though for Ms Naisau as a beneficiary of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) dignity kits that the hospital had begun distributing to women coming in for their ante-natal clinic since March 17.

Ms Naisau said the contents of the box would definitely come in handy; like all pregnant women who have received a dignity kit since Cyclone Winston, Ms Naisua doesn't have to worry about essentials when it's time to make the hospital trip.

Ms Naisau uses depo-provera as a family planning method option, a choice she made with her husband. "Times are hard," the soft-spoken woman said. "We live on an island ... island life and the only source of income is diving so good to plan."

Sub-Divisional Medical Office Dr Mere Vakawaletabua expressed appreciation for dignity kits which was "very helpful in this time of crisis". "The kits have now been distributed to other centers including Ra Maternity Hospital. It has been much appreciated, a big help," Dr Vakawaletabua said.

UNFPA support so far to the response efforts of the Government of Fiji has largely been channeled through the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in the form of dignity kits and emergency clean delivery kits. UNFPA was able to preposition the latter with help from the Government of Australia.

Dignity kits are intended to address the basic hygiene needs of women including undergarments, sanitary pads and shirts as well as some items for protection such as a torch. Emergency clean delivery kits are sanitized delivery packs for clean and safe deliveries in emergency situations that may prevent regular autoclaving of medical equipment.

UNFPA has procured and handed-over to the Ministry of Health and Medical Services 12 types of emergency reproductive health kits most of which consist of equipment and supplies necessary for damaged health facilities to be able to resume provision of life-saving reproductive health services the soonest time possible.

Another 4,400 dignity kits have been procured by UNFPA for distribution to women and girls including pregnant and lactating women. The dignity kits will also be distributed through the public health outreach missions of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MOHMS).

Since the Category 5 severe tropical cyclone Winston on February 20, the UNFPA has successfully sought additional funding from the Government of Australia (AU$400,000.00) and from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (US$500,000.00).

A medical mission and outreach exercise last Friday (March 18) was carried out collaboratively by the MOHMS, UNFPA and the International Planned Parenthood Federation Pacific sub-regional office.

Assistant Minister of Health and Medical Services Veena Bhatnagar and officials from the Government of Australia were also part of the medical missions.

Ms Bhatnagar said she was very impressed with both the dignity kits and the work that was being carried out at village level stressing the importance of addressing health issues of women.

"What happens in a family is, a woman will always put her family first and herself last and this is the more reason I think it is our duty to come and look after them," Ms Bhatnagar said.

"Being a woman whilst it is a blessing it is also a challenge I think, women go through so many things ... it is difficult, especially more difficult at times of devastation and in such a time, UNFPA has come on board to assist women especially pregnant women and young mothers."

UNFPA Pacific Sub-Regional Office Director and Representative Dr Laurent Zessler said it was important that the needs of women in reproductive age are always addressed in fragile circumstances such as after a natural disaster.