Pregnant women struggle to find care after Pakistan's floods

Pregnant women struggle to find care after Pakistan's floods
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Shakeela Bibi who is pregnant stands beside her tent at a relief camp for flood victims, in Fazilpur near Multan, Pakistan, Sept. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Shazia Bhatti)
Pregnant women struggle to find care after Pakistan's floods
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Pregnant women wait their turn for a checkup at a clinic setup in a tent at a relief camp for flood victims, in Fazilpur near Multan, Pakistan, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 17 October 2022

Pregnant women struggle to find care after Pakistan's floods

Pregnant women struggle to find care after Pakistan's floods

RAJANPUR: The first five months of Shakeela Bibi’s pregnancy were smooth. She picked out a name, Uthman, made him clothes and furniture. She had regular checkups at home and access to medicine. Then an ultrasound revealed the baby was upside down. The doctor told Bibi to take extra care and rest.
And then came this summer’s massive floods. Bibi’s home in the southern Pakistani city of Rajanpur was inundated.
When she spoke to The Associated Press last month, she was living in a camp for displaced families. With her due date approaching, she was afraid over the possibility of a breech birth with almost no health care accessible.
“What happens if my health deteriorates suddenly?” Shakeela said. She has a blood deficiency and sometimes low blood pressure, but she said she can’t have a proper diet in the camp. “I’ve been in a camp for two months, sleeping on the ground, and this is making my situation worse.”
Pregnant women are struggling to get care after Pakistan’s unprecedented flooding, which inundated a third of the country at its height and drove millions from their homes. There are at least at least 610,000 pregnant women in flood-affected areas, according to the Population Council, a U.S.-based reproductive health organization.
Many live in tent camps for the displaced, or try to make it on their own with their families in flood-wrecked villages and towns. Women have lost access to health services after more than 1,500 health facilities and large stretches of roads were destroyed. More than 130,000 pregnant women need urgent care, with some 2,000 a day giving birth mostly in unsafe conditions, according to the United Nations.
Experts fear an increase in infant mortality or health complications for mothers or children in a country that already has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Asia. They also warn of dangerous, long-term repercussions for women, such as an increase in child marriage and unwanted pregnancies because of the disruptions in the lives and livelihoods of families.
Rasheed Ahmed, a humanitarian analyst at the U.N. Population Fund, said the health system was already poor before, and he warned now of “death, disability, and disease” if the health of pregnant women is ignored.
“The biggest shortage is female health care workers, medical supplies and medicine,” he said. “Resources are another challenge. What are the government’s priorities? Are they willing to spend the money?”
At camps in the flood-hit towns of Fazilpur and Rajanpur, pregnant women told the AP they had received no treatment or services for their pregnancies since arriving at the camps nearly two months ago. Clinics handed out medicines for minor ailments, but nothing for mothers-to-be. The next day, after the AP visited a local medical center to alert their plight, female health workers went to check on the women and distribute calcium sachets and iron supplements.
Shakeela Bibi and her family eventually left the camp, taking their tent with them and setting it up close to their wrecked home. Authorities gave them a month’s worth of flour, ghee, and lentils. She is now past her due date, but doctors have assured her that her baby is fine and don’t think she will need a Caesarian.
Perveen Bibi, an 18-year-old who is five months pregnant and not related to Shakeela, said the lack of health facilities in the camp forced her to travel to a private clinic and pay for an ultrasound and check-up. But she was prescribed medicine she can’t afford to buy.
“I used to have a good diet, with dairy products from our livestock,” she said. The family had to sell their livestock after the floods because they had no place to keep them and no way to feed them.
“We need female doctors, female nurses, gynecologists,” said Bibi, who has one daughter and is expecting a boy. She had a son around a year ago, but he died a few days after his birth. “We can’t afford ultrasound or IV. We’re just getting by.”
In the camps, families of five, seven or more eat, sleep, and spend their days and nights in one tent, sometimes with just one bed between them. Most sleep on floor mats. Some survivors only have the clothes they fled in and rely on donations.
Outdoor taps are used for washing clothes, washing dishes, and bathing. The pregnant women said there were shortages of clean water and soap. They were scared of infections because of open defecation at the camps. A bathroom was set up, but it has no roof and tents surround it.
Amid the devastation, organizations and individuals are doing what they can — the UNFPA is delivering supplies for new-born babies and safe delivery kits across four flood-hit provinces.
A Karachi-based NGO, the Mama Baby Fund, has provided 9,000 safe delivery kits, which include items for new-borns, across Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, as well as antenatal and postnatal check-ups for 1,000 women. The Association for Mothers and Newborns, also based in Karachi, has provided more than 1,500 safe delivery kits, mostly in Sindh.
Ahmed from the UNFPA says pregnant women have different needs to the rest of the displaced population, needs that aren't being met by state efforts.
“The government’s response is very general, it’s for the masses. It’s about shelter, relocation," Ahmed said. “I’ve heard about women miscarrying because of mental stress, the physical stress of displacement and relocation,"
The health crisis triggered by the flooding will reverberate among women because it will take long to rebuild health facilities and restore family planning, according to Saima Bashir from the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.
“Women and young girls are very vulnerable in this situation,” said Bashir. She pointed to increasing reports of child marriage.
Even before the floods, 21% of Pakistani girls were married before the age of 18, and 4% before the age of 15, according to U.N. figures.
The rate is increasing for several reasons. Some parents marry off their daughters as a way to obtain financial support from the boy's family so they can rebuild their homes. Others fear for the safety of their girls in displaced camps and believe marrying them off will protect them from abuse or secure their future. Also, the destruction of schools in the floods closes off other options; some girls who would have gotten an education or possibly gone on to work will stay at home instead.
In the next few years, those girls will get pregnant, Bashir said, especially given limited access to contraception.
“There will be more unwanted pregnancies,” she said. “This is ... compounding this crisis, and it’s adding to the population.”

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China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
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Updated 6 sec ago

China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
  • The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward

BEIJING: Southwest China’s Sichuan province will lift its three-child birth limit and remove restrictions on single parents as the world’s most populous nation faces a looming demographic crisis.
China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than six decades, official data released this month showed, and the nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages.
China ended its strict “one-child policy” — imposed in the 1980s out of fears of overpopulation — in 2016 and began allowing couples to have three children in 2021.
But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline.
Faced with falling birth rates, authorities in Sichuan on Monday said they would remove the limit on the number of children a family can have and lift a ban on single women registering a birth.
The Sichuan Provincial Health Commission said the new rules would take effect on February 15.
Out-of-wedlock births are frowned upon in China, with the National Health Commission saying in 2017 that they were “against the public order and against good morals.”
The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward.
The population stood at around 1,411,750,000 at the end of 2022, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported recently, a decrease of 850,000 from the end of the previous year.
Many point to the soaring cost of living — as well as a growing number of women in the workforce and seeking higher education — as being behind the slowdown.
Many local authorities have already launched measures to encourage couples to have children.
The southern megacity of Shenzhen, for example, now offers birth bonuses of up to 10,000 yuan (around $1,500) and pays allowances until the child is three years old.


What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?
Updated 23 min 25 sec ago

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?
  • TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP

ISLAMABAD: When a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
In a post on Twitter, a commander for the group, Sarbakaf Mohmand, claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.
But more than 10 hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques or other religious sites, adding that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action under TTP’s policy. His statement did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The TTP’s denial also came after the Afghan Foreign Ministry condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Relations already are strained between Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, who are sheltering the TTP leadership and fighters.
A look at the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has waged an insurgency in the country for 15 years:
Why is the TTP fighting an insurgency?
Angered by Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington in the war on terrorism, the TTP was officially set up by Pakistani militants in 2007 when different outlawed groups agreed to work together against Pakistan and support the Afghan Taliban, who were fighting US and NATO forces.
The TTP seeks stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody, and a reduction in Pakistani military presence in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province bordering Afghanistan that it has long used as a base.

Caption

The TTP has stepped up attacks on Pakistani soldiers and police since November, when it unilaterally ended a cease-fire with the government after the failure of months of talks, hosted by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in Kabul. The TTP has repeatedly warned police not to take part in operations against its fighters in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
What is the relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban?
The TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP, which shares the group’s ideology.
TTP fighters used to hide in Pakistan’s tribal northwest and also had sanctuary in Afghanistan, but they mostly lived a fugitive existence.
However, the Afghan Taliban started openly sheltering the TTP when they came to power. The Afghan Taliban also released TTP leaders and fighters who had been arrested by previous administrations in Kabul.
The Taliban have repeatedly said they will not allow anyone, including the TTP, to use Afghan soil for attacks against any country, including Pakistan. But Pakistani officials say there is a disconnect between the words and actions of the Afghan Taliban, who could stop the TTP from launching attacks inside the country but are failing to do so.


ALSO READ: 59 killed, 157 wounded, as suicide blast rips through Pakistan police mosque

The Pakistani Taliban have expressed their allegiance to the head of the Afghan Taliban, said Abdullah Khan, a senior defense analyst and managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.
He added, however, that they have their own agenda and strategy.
TTP’s operations have largely been aimed at targeting Pakistani forces, similar to the Afghan Taliban’s agenda of ousting foreign forces from the country.
Khan fears that Pakistan will see a surge in militant violence in the coming weeks and months.
Has viollence increased recently?
Pakistan has seen innumerable militant attacks in the past two decades, but there has been an uptick since November, when the TTP ended a cease-fire with the government that had lasted for months.
The Pakistani Taliban regularly carry out shootings or bombings, especially in the rugged and remote northwestern Pakistan, a former TTP stronghold.
The violence has raised fears among residents of a possible military operation in the former tribal regions of North and South Waziristan, now two districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Hours after Monday’s mosque bombing, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the independent Geo news channel that Afghan Taliban rulers must stand by their commitment to the international community to not allow anyone to use their soil for attacks against another country.
“They should honor their promises,” he said.


US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare
Updated 31 January 2023

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare
  • If the new rule is implemented, women enrolled in plans governed by the ACA would gain birth control coverage regardless of employer exemption, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement

WASHINGTON: Women whose employers have opted out of covering contraceptives under their health insurance plans on religious grounds would gain no-cost access to birth control under a rule proposed by the Biden administration on Monday.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, requires private insurance plans to cover recommended preventive services including contraception without any patient cost-sharing, but current regulations grant exemptions for religious or moral objections.
If the new rule is implemented, women enrolled in plans governed by the ACA would gain birth control coverage regardless of employer exemption, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement.
“Today’s proposed rule works to ensure that the tens of millions of women across the country who have and will benefit from the ACA will be protected. It says to women across the country, we have your back,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Under existing regulations, those enrolled in plans that do not cover contraception on religious or moral grounds can only access contraceptive services through an accommodation that employers can decline to offer.
Under the new rule, a provider would offer contraception at no cost to the employee and be reimbursed by an insurer, who would receive a credit from the government.
The rule would also remove employer moral objections as grounds for exemption from coverage but keep religious ones in place.

 


UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism

UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism
Updated 31 January 2023

UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism

UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism
  • Sayed Ataollah Mohajerani, a former senior Iranian government official living in London, is accused of backing the fatwa against author Sir Salman Rushdie
  • Human rights lawyers who filed the complaint said UK authorities have an obligation to prosecute international crimes and protect citizens from all forms of terrorism

LONDON: The UK’s Metropolitan police is facing calls to prosecute a former senior Iranian government official accused of endorsing the fatwa against author Sir Salman Rushdie.

Met officers are examining a legal case file that accuses Sayed Ataollah Mohajerani, who lives in London, of violating the Terrorism Act 2006 by promoting terrorism, the Guardian newspaper reported on Monday.

The fatwa against Rushdie, following publication of his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” was issued in February 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini, who was Iran’s supreme leader at the time. It has never been lifted. In August 2022, Rushdie was stabbed several times and seriously injured while appearing on stage at a literary festival in New York.

A complaint was filed against Mohajerani that same month by Iranian human rights lawyer Kaveh Moussavi and British solicitor Rebecca Mooney, according to the Guardian. It states that Mohajerani was deputy to the Iranian prime minister in 1988 and vice-president for parliamentary and legal affairs between 1989 and 1997, a period of time during which the regime in Tehran ordered the assassinations of hundreds of dissidents in Europe.

Moussavi and Mooney allege that Mohajerani did not attempt to prevent the killings and, since moving to the UK, he has on several occasions lauded as an Iranian national hero Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who was killed by a US drone strike in January 2020 in Iraq.

They also say that in his 1989 book, “A Critique of the Satanic Verses Conspiracy,” Mohajerani defended the fatwa against Rushdie and clearly expressed his view that it was religiously justified and irrevocable, and therefore impossible to withdraw.

Mohajerani denied the allegations and said his book is simply a critique of Rushdie’s novel that aims to shed light on its religious origins, the Guardian reported.

“When Salman Rushdie was attacked by an American citizen, I tweeted that I hope Salman Rushdie will recover from this event, and based on William Falkner’s advice, write a novel through concentrating on the beauties and moral values, at the service of human beings,” Mohajerani told the Guardian.

“On the contrary, in ‘The Satanic Verses,’ he added a huge amount of oil to the fire. Hopefully he will find a proper chance to correct himself.”

Mohajerani also said that because of the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive in Iran, he had no role in the executions of prisoners in 1988.

Moussavi condemned Mohajerani’s defense as being “indicative of his culpability.”

“The idea that this is or was an independent judiciary is plain absurd. That he repeats it confirms again who he really is,” he told the Guardian.

“In law, he was required to protest and do his utmost to stop these crimes and, if unable, he must resign. I doubt very much if his defense counsel will offer these concoctions in a court case, as defense or mitigation.”

Police in London have reportedly said that the complex issues raised by the case file will require significant resources and additional time to investigate.

Mooney, representing the human rights charity Ending Immunity, highlighted the obligations on UK authorities to prosecute international crimes under international law.

“The first duty of the state is to protect its citizens — that requires preemptive, prosecutorial and punitive measures where appropriate,” she said. “That is why we have terrorism laws, including (laws against) promoting terrorism through speech. It is meaningless to have these laws if we do not prosecute.”


UK’s Sunak defends handling of ethics breaches in government

UK’s Sunak defends handling of ethics breaches in government
Updated 31 January 2023

UK’s Sunak defends handling of ethics breaches in government

UK’s Sunak defends handling of ethics breaches in government
  • Sunak took office just over three months ago, vowing to restore order and probity to government after three years of turmoil under predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, who quit within weeks after her policies rocked the UK economy

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak defended his record on integrity and decisiveness Monday, amid criticism of the way he has handled ethics scandals involving senior Conservatives.
Sunak said he acted “pretty decisively” to fire party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday after the government’s standards adviser found that he’d breached ministerial conduct rules by failing to come clean about a tax dispute.
The adviser, Laurie Magnus, found that Zahawi hadn’t told the prime minister that he’d settled a multimillion-pound (dollar) unpaid tax bill, and paid a penalty to the tax office, while he was in charge of the UK Treasury. Magnus said Zahawi’s failure to tell officials about the tax investigation was “a serious failure to meet the standards set out in the ministerial code.”
“What I have done is follow a process, which is the right process,” Sunak said Monday during a visit to a hospital in northeast England. “When all these questions started coming to light about Nadhim Zahawi, I asked the independent adviser to get to the bottom of it and provide me with the facts.”
He said that on the basis of those facts “I was able to make a very quick decision that it was no longer appropriate for Nadhim Zahawi to continue in government.”
Sunak took office just over three months ago, vowing to restore order and probity to government after three years of turmoil under predecessors Boris Johnson — brought down by ethics scandals — and Liz Truss, who quit within weeks after her policies rocked the UK economy.
But critics ask why he did not ask more questions about Zahawi’s tax affairs before appointing him to the key job of party chairman in October, and allege that the government is riddled with bad behavior.
Sunak lost one Cabinet minister, Gavin Williamson, in November over bullying claims, and an investigation is under way into allegations that Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab bullied staff. There is also a separate inquiry into ex-leader Johnson, over claims he secured a loan with the help of a Conservative donor who was later appointed chairman of the BBC by the government.
Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds said Sunak “needed a backbone” and should have sacked Zahawi sooner.
“Why do we see our prime minister continuing to prop up such a rogues’ gallery of ministers?” she said.