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Turkish Midwives Step Up for Mothers and Newborns, Post Earthquake

Pregnant women have a high risk of health complications in disaster settings. A recent grant to midwives in Turkey after February's devastating earthquakes is connecting more women to care.


Turkey-Syria Earthquake 2023

Midwives with the Turkish Midwifery Association distribute kits containing hygiene products for women recovering from birth. The group received $100,000 from Direct Relief to support midwifery services, post earthquake. (Courtesy photo)

When massive earthquakes devastated parts of Turkey and Syria in February, killing tens of thousands, emergency response teams provided support and supplies to the 1.5 million people living in temporary shelters. Among the survivors was a group at especially high risk from the disaster and interrupted health care—pregnant women and newborns. More than 270,000 women were expected to give birth in the months following the earthquakes, according to a United Nations Population Fund announcement from March.

When homes and hospitals were destroyed, medical professionals created shelter hospitals for emergency procedures and care. Existing medical locations remained open for women to access care when needed. Midwives, who provide an additional layer of care throughout the birthing process, have been a stronghold for birthing mothers throughout the response to the disaster.

Midwives unload kits for distribution to women recovering from birth. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Burcu Yurtsal is the vice president of the Midwives Association of Turkey and Head of the Midwifery Department within the Health Science School at Cumhuriyet University. The Midwives Association of Turkey has been active before and after the earthquakes, serving women and babies. The group distributed 2,200 kits containing hygiene products for women and those recovering from birth across five cities last week. More kits are expected to be delivered this week.

As part of its earthquake response efforts, Direct Relief donated $100,000 to the Turkish Midwifery Association, which has 3,910 members who provide pre-and post-natal home care and childbirth services at Turkish hospitals. Pregnant women and newborns are particularly vulnerable to health risks in disaster settings. The funding will also pay for supplies to facilitate safe births and personal care supplies for pregnant women and those recovering from childbirth.

Yurtsal said that midwives and doctors are constantly working to meet the demand for health care. To decrease the risk of burnout, Yurtsal said most are scheduled to work two weeks at a time and are then required to rest.

Treating earthquake victims who may now suffer from severe health conditions can be emotionally taxing. Yurtsal said the survivors and those caring for them are at an increased risk of trauma.

She also shared that healthcare providers, particularly midwives and doctors, have experienced more stress in the wake of the earthquakes as they provide prenatal, neonatal and postpartum care for many women in Turkey.

Direct Relief is also supporting organizations in Syria providing maternal and child health services in the northwestern part of the country still recovering from the earthquakes. Those organizations include the Syrian American Medical Society, Independent Doctors Association, and Syria Relief and Development.

The Midwives Association of Turkey delivered dignity kits during National Week of the Midwife. (Photo provided by Midwives Association of Turkey)

In Turkey, expectant mothers have direct access to care regardless of location. Yurtsal said that all maternal health services have been made available to women and that the services at the hospital are ‘completely open.’

While also nursing a new baby in her own home, Yurtsal said that it’s important for midwives to connect and communicate with their patients. The midwife said that building peer emotional support and human connection is integral to maternal care to build trust and comfort through the process.

Now, just months after the earthquakes, Yurtsal said that medical providers continue to work together to provide the best care for the women of Turkey.

“I think, at first, people were very (afraid) of so much loss,” she said. “It was really frustrating, a very bad feeling. But after that, we need to keep hope.”

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