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In Responding to the Nepal Earthquake, Don’t Forget About Women and Girls

Here at PAI, we have all been deeply saddened to hear about the tremendous destruction and tragic loss of life this weekend in Nepal. The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck near Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu and subsequent aftershocks has left more than 3,350 dead and 6,800 injured, numbers that are expected to grow in the coming hours and days as search and rescue efforts continue. The United Nations estimates that more than 8 million people have been affected by the disaster, with over 2 million living in the most severely impacted areas — many of whom are in immediate need of emergency aid. While needs like food, water, shelter, and medical care for those injured spring to mind in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, it is critical that life-saving reproductive health care is not overlooked.

The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) initial estimates suggest that upwards of 50,000 pregnant women may be among those impacted. The damage, destruction, or overcrowding of health facilities after disasters leaves pregnant women in a precarious situation, oftentimes giving birth in abysmal conditions that can be hazardous to both them and their newborns.  Access to maternal health care, including safe delivery services and emergency obstetric care for those experiencing potentially life-threatening complications, is critical for these women.

It is also imperative that efforts are undertaken immediately to prevent gender-based violence, which often surges during times of disaster and displacement. Response programs must ensure that women and girls who experience sexual violence are able to receive the post-rape care they need, including emergency contraception and post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and other STIs.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the lives of women and girls are not simply put on hold when an unexpected disaster strikes. The sanitary and reproductive health needs of women and girls of reproductive age remain the same but are often forgotten about in response efforts. The feminine hygiene products, like sanitary napkins, and family planning supplies and services they rely upon in their everyday lives, are no less needed now.

As funding and emergency assistance is now beginning to arrive in Nepal, these issues are priorities for agencies like UNFPA, which is mobilizing to get emergency staff and reproductive health kits on the ground, and others, including several of PAI’s partners. However, it is critical that the wider humanitarian response effort does not lose sight of the importance of life-saving reproductive health care and the other unique needs of women and girls.

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