Midwives were both victims and key aid workers when disaster hit the Indian Ocean: ICM Deputy Director Judi Brown writes of the impact of the tsunami on the people it affected and the midwives in the Asia Pacific region.

Position:International Confederation of Midwives

On December 26, the day after many of us around the world celebrated Christmas, we began to hear news reports of a disaster that has hardly left the headlines in the weeks since then. A huge wave of enormous height and force, generated by a massive undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean, had spread its destructive power across the countries with coasts on this part of the ocean. Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, along with the many groups of small islands in those seas, were among the regions hardest hit.

The Japanese term tsunami is the one that exactly describes this phenomenon, and that has been the word that has summed up the whole devastating event. Hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, and many times that number of people have had their lives all but destroyed by loss of family, loss of home and loss of livelihood. Helping to rebuild some of what is lost--and avert further tragedy in the aftermath of the disaster--has been a challenge to the world's aid organisations. Among these who reacted promptly in the early days are several who have worked as ICM's partners, including WHO, UNICEF and ICN, and we know their knowledge, dedication and energy will have been directed towards the best support possible.

Impact on mothers and babies

Even in the first few days, while there had still been no communication at all with many of the stricken areas, it became clear that among the particularly vulnerable groups of people displaced from their homes, were pregnant women, newly delivered mothers, babies and small children. This is nothing new. Midwives know well how any disruption of the normal routines of family life, with the extra support usually offered to a new mother within a community, can put at risk the well-being of mother and baby. Lack of warmth and shelter, shortage of nutritious food and no clean water supply can have swift and lethal effects.

Midwives in Indonesia

ICM began straight away to make contact with its member associations in the affected countries. I would like to quote for you part of the message I received from the Indonesian Midwives Association (IMA) soon after the tragedy, as I believe it represents the very widespread mixture of feelings among midwives who are suffering personal grief at loss of friends and colleagues, while also determined to do the best they can for the women and babies who need their help:

Dear Judi Brown,

On behalf of the Indonesian Midwives Association we thank ICM and all our...

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