We Can’t Overlook Reproductive Health Needs in Haiti

Sharon Camp

During this time of displacement, the health and lives of Haiti's women and girls are threatened by severe living conditions, including the virtual absence of reproductive health services.

Following
the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, relief agencies,
multilateral institutions and governments are increasingly shifting their focus
from emergency response to longer term relief, rebuilding and development
efforts. Given the scale of the disaster, many thousands of Haitians will
likely be forced to live in camps or other makeshift arrangements for years, if
not decades, to come. During this time of displacement, the health and lives of
Haiti’s women and girls-many of whom were already in a precarious situation
because of poverty or low social status-are threatened by severe living
conditions, including the virtual absence of reproductive health services.

Most immediately,
there is an urgent
need
for clean delivery kits to ensure that childbirth is safe for mothers
and their newborns. Likewise, displaced women and girls are especially
vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, and proper care-including emergency
contraception and HIV prophylaxis-must be made widely available to any victims
of sexual violence. Also, the many Haitian women who find themselves cut off
from their usual sources for family planning services and supplies, including
condoms, must be provided with free contraceptives. A failure to address these
needs heightens the risk for unwanted pregnancy and botched abortion, HIV and
other STIs, and high-risk, life-threatening pregnancies and childbirth.

Fortunately,
with increased awareness over the last 15 years of the importance of
reproductive health for displaced people
, coordination and collaboration
among agencies working on these issues has grown, including through the work of
the Reproductive Health Response in Conflict
(Rewire) Consortium
. Additionally, increased research and documentation of
the specific needs of refugees and displaced people have been critical in
improving service delivery and strengthening advocacy efforts aimed at donors,
NGOs and policymakers.

The U.S.
government’s response to the Haitian earthquake has been both swift and strong.
But Haiti’s women also need the United States to reassert a leadership role in
ensuring that sexual and reproductive health care is a core component of the
humanitarian response to the crisis. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton said in her recent
speech on global reproductive health
: "Investing in the health of women,
adolescents and girls is not only the right thing to do; it is also the smart
thing to do. That is why we are integrating women’s issues as key elements of
our foreign policy agenda." It’s time to put these wise words to the test in
U.S. relief and rebuilding efforts in Haiti by prioritizing reproductive health
care.

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