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175,000 women face risks to pregnancies due to lack of medical care in Turkey’s quake zone: report

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There are more than 175,000 pregnant women in Turkey’s earthquake zone, and these women face serious problems in accessing maternal healthcare services, according to a report by the Women’s Platform for Equality (EŞİK), an umbrella organization of over 340 women’s and LGBTQ organizations.

Two powerful earthquakes that struck near the city of Gaziantep on Feb. 6 have claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people in Turkey, according to the latest official figures. A 7.8-magnitude quake was followed by a number of aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude temblor that jolted the region in the middle of search and rescue efforts the same day.

According to the report there are 13.4 million Turks and 1.7 million Syrians in the 11 southeastern provinces hit by the quakes, including 175,278 women who are known to be pregnant.

The risks facing women regarding sexual health and reproductive rights in such extraordinary circumstances as earthquakes were listed in the report as difficulty in accessing maternal healthcare services, genital infections and other diseases that will occur as a result of unhygienic conditions, inability to follow up with a doctor during pregnancy, lack of access contraceptives, traumatic miscarriage, premature birth and menstrual irregularity.

EŞİK estimates that nearly 3,000 pregnant women will have medical problems during pregnancy within the next month, with the figure expected to reach 8,764 in the next three months. The platform also predicts 11,685 newborns will experience medical problems in the same period.

Özgül Kaptan from EŞİK said that with the help of the Turkish Medical Association (TTB)’s Women Doctors and Women’s Health Branch, they aimed to reveal in the report that the unhygienic post-earthquake conditions in southeastern Turkey have caused women to experience miscarriages and early periods and that they face other health risks.

“Since [relief efforts] weren’t managed [properly] after the earthquakes, we know that there are those who will perceive this as an unnecessary detail. That’s why we wanted to document it,” Kaptan added.

Following the earthquakes, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government were accused of poor performance in coordinating search and rescue efforts, mainly failing to mobilize enough people and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves.

Dr. Adalet Çıbık, a member of the TTB’s central council, also said many births in the quake zone took place in cars and other unsanitary environments due to the lack of hygienic conditions.

“Shelter and nutrition problems haven’t yet been solved. … Due to the lack of access to clean underwear and water, such [health] problems as vaginitis and urinary tract infections have increased,” Çıbık added.

She also underlined that a disruption in vaccination services, especially for tetanus, remained a serious problem in the earthquake zone.

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