The cyclone in Myanmar devastated the country's health sector, leaving as many as 35,000 pregnant women in urgent need of proper medical care, a U.N. family planning expert said.
More than 100 women give birth every day in the area affected by the cyclone, William A. Ryan, a spokesman for the United Nations Population Fund, and 35,000 of the estimated 2.4 million cyclone survivors are pregnant women.
Pregnancy and childbirth were already relatively risky in Myanmar, one of Asia's poorest countries, even before the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis, Ryan said at a news conference Wednesday.
The maternal mortality rate in Myanmar before the storm was 380 per 100,000 births - almost four times the rate in neighboring Thailand and 60 times the rate in Japan, he said.
"The destruction of health centers and loss of midwives have greatly increased the risks," said Ryan. "It is clear that many pregnant women do not have anywhere to go to deliver with skilled assistance."
He said that the wrecked health facilities need to be rebuilt, with the capacity to handle emergency obstetrics.
His agency set up two mobile clinics in Myanmar last week, staffed by doctors from the Myanmar Medical Association, to provide prenatal care and safe delivery to women in two townships affected by the cyclone.
But there is also a need for trained midwives who can handle emergency treatment, he said.
Ryan said that compared to many other countries, Myanmar has a fairly high number of births attended by midwives - but the comparison is to other countries that are desperately poor.
He said that the U.N. Population Fund has provided supplies to Myanmar's Health Ministry for distribution to community health clinics in 10 affected townships, including rubber gloves for midwives and hospital equipment for safe child delivery.
Two shipments, enough to serve approximately 450,000 pregnant women, have been delivered so far, and a third, for an additional 500,000, is due this week.
The U.N. agency has also provided women displaced by the cyclone with "dignity kits" containing soap, clothing and sanitary supplies, packed in buckets that are meant for collecting water. More than 1,000 kits are assembled by volunteers everyday.