Pregnant Women, Newborns Hit Hard by Iraq Violence

(IRIN) - Leila Abdel-Karim, 27, longed for a child and, after two years of trying, she got pregnant, but could not foresee that the baby's delivery - and future health - would be severely affected by the ongoing violence in Baghdad.

A resident of Dora District, one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods of Baghdad, Leila's labour began during the night as clashes flared up near her house, preventing her from getting to hospital.

"We tried to leave our home but the clashes were getting worse and we had to stay, knowing that my baby could die, as the doctor had told me that I would probably need a Caesarean," she said.

When she finally got to the hospital in the morning and gave birth, her son had suffered brain damage which was affecting his movements - something he might have to contend with for the rest of his life, according to the doctors.

"The violence destroyed the life of my son while he was still in my uterus," Leila said.

According to doctors, dozens of women in Iraq each day face delivery difficulties caused by violence and the curfew that is preventing access to health care during the night.

"For at least two women in every 12 who seek emergency delivery assistance here, either the mother or her child dies," Dr Ibrahim Khalil, a gynaecologist at Al-Karada maternity hospital, said.

"Mothers are usually anaemic and children are born underweight as a result of a poor nutrition and lack of pre-natal care," Khalil said, adding: "There aren't any official figures but we can see that the number has doubled since Saddam Hussein's time."

Fewer district nurses

According to Claire Hajaj, communications officer at the UN Children's Fund's (UNICEF) Iraq Support Centre, women give birth in difficult environments: "In some cases travelling to hospitals is the last resort because of insecurity, curfews, road blocks and fear of violence," she said.

Fewer non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are working in the maternity area, and there are fewer district nurses willing to travel in the current circumstances.

"Before we had a group of 10 nurses offering home delivery to women in Baghdad but today we have just one - and she is thinking of giving up for security reasons," said Hanan Lattif, media officer for a local group called the Women's Rights Organisation. "Women have to rely on their families and hope that their delivery happens during the day."


UNICEF has said Iraq's maternal mortality rates have increased dramatically in the last 15 years. In 1989, 117 mothers out of 100,000 died during pregnancy or childbirth. That figure has now gone up by 65 per cent.

Figures compiled earlier this year by Save the Children show that in 1990 the mortality rate for under-fives was 50 per 1,000 live births. In 2005 it was 125. While other countries have higher rates, the rate of increase in Iraq is higher than elsewhere.

According to UNICEF, over one million babies were born in Iraq in the last 12 months, at least 40,000 of them to displaced families - many living in unsanitary conditions in camps.

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