Reproductive Health Care in Crisis Situations

June 10, 2010
Dr. Grace Kodindo

About the Author: Kim D'Auria-Vazira serves on the Population Team in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration

If you screen it, will they come?

Women living in conflict-affected settings face dire consequences every day when they don't have access to critical reproductive health care and services. If policy makers and relief organizations better understood this essential need, would they do more about it?

This was our hope last week. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Eric Schwartz hosted a screening of the film, Grace Under Fire, which followed Dr. Grace Kodindo, an obstetrician from Chad, as she visited North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to document the urgent sexual and reproductive health needs of conflict-affected populations. Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero delivered opening remarks. Following the film screening, Susan Reichle, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for USAID's Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Office, shared information about the need to better integrate reproductive health in crisis planning "so that it's not an afterthought." Finally, the highlight of the event was a panel discussion chaired by Assistant Secretary Schwartz with Dr. Kodindo and other subject matter experts to examine the factors that complicate the provision of these essential services.

In his remarks, Assistant Secretary Schwartz said that the United States is communicating within our own government and with our international partners that sexual and reproductive health care are frontline priorities in complex emergency settings, to be included along with other life-saving interventions in emergencies, such water and sanitation, shelter and nutrition. He opened the discussion by asking the panelists and the audience both "Are we doing enough?” and “What more should be done, and can be done to address the consequences of the lack of access to reproductive health services in conflict- affected areas?” Dr. Kodindo spoke compellingly about the realities of motherhood, reproductive health and family well-being in war-torn settings -- her compassion as she travelled around the Congo and interviewed survivors of rape and war was deeply moving and humbling. The film brought to life how sexual violence and the use of rape as a tool of conflict are terribly effective at demoralizing and debilitating individuals, families, and communities.

Two local representatives from international NGO-supported projects joined the panel. Dr. Boubacar Toure from the DRC and Clarence Massequoi from Liberia shared insights into which humanitarian responses work best (community based interventions with strong local involvement) and which do not (those that don't incorporate international service standards).

The Chief of the UN Population Fund's (UNFPA) Washington Office, Sarah Craven, gave her perspective as a representative of an international organization that works with donors and policy makers, and knows too well the obstacles and gaps created by bureaucracies and the logistical challenges of meeting reproductive health needs in conflict-affected settings.

The auditorium was full of colleagues from the State Department, USAID, NGOs, universities and the private sector, and the event left a strong impression on everyone in the audience. Seeing Grace Under Fire and meeting Dr. Kodindo encouraged us all to renew our commitment to raising awareness about the lack of reproductive health in crisis settings -- and to work together to implement more effective strategies to address the gaps in our efforts to provide reproductive health care in conflict-affected and humanitarian settings once and for all.

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