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International Community Should Prioritize Family Planning In Refugee Settings

Writing in The Guardian’s “Poverty Matters Blog,” Lizzy Berryman, head of emergencies for Merlin, examines why “family planning [is] seldom prioritized in refugee settings,” noting, “Family planning remains a low-cost way of reducing pregnancy-related deaths, and one that women have told us they need time and again. But conflict-affected settings receive 50 percent less funding for reproductive health than stable settings.” She writes, “Some 15 percent of deliveries are likely to result in life-threatening complications and require emergency obstetric care, which only a doctor or midwife can provide. Delivery is more likely to be complicated if you have been through the trauma of fleeing a conflict or natural disaster, and medical assistance, such as antenatal care, is less likely to be available,” adding, “But even though the risks associated with pregnancy are greater, reproductive health is often put to one side in emergency relief situations.”

Berryman highlights Syria as an example, noting “the last time an extensive survey was carried out among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, only 37 percent of non-pregnant married women were using contraception.” She asks, “Syrian refugees frequently tell aid workers they are terrified of becoming pregnant, so why is family planning such a rarity?” Berryman states, “Part of the answer is rooted in the same reasons that women lack health care in general. Lebanon, whose population has grown by nearly 25 percent since the war in Syria began, is struggling to meet demand for basic health care. … Fundamentally, however, there are simply more immediate needs.” She writes, “The solution lies in adapting to the specific needs of refugees, whether they are living in camps, host communities or informal settlements,” and she concludes, “Addressing this different and often complex set of challenges means that pregnancy can be the natural and life-affirming process it should be for women who have already endured conflict and disaster” (7/25).