Stories From the Field

In this refugee camp, midwives have delivered over 14,000 babies with zero maternal deaths

In this refugee camp, midwives have delivered over 14,000 babies with zero maternal deaths
Ammoun Kitabi cradles a newborn in Zaatari camp. As a Jordanian midwife trained in Syria, she feels a deep connection to the Syrian refugees under her care. © UNFPA Jordan

ZAATARI CAMP, Jordan – “On my first day at work in the camp, I cried a lot. At that time, I had not worked with refugees before, and I had no idea about their conditions,” Ammoun Kitabi, a 58-year-old midwife, told UNFPA, at the reproductive health clinic in Zaatari camp where she tends to Syrian refugees. “The reason I cried was because I knew that most of them had everything they needed in their country.”

Ammoun knows better than most.

Although she is Jordanian, she studied midwifery in Homs, Syria. She also worked there for five years before returning to Jordan. The Syrian women she tended to in the 1980s enjoyed peace and quality care, she recalled. “Life might have been simple but it was a beautiful and stable one, until it was shaken when they were forced to flee to Jordan for safety from the shelling and war back home.”

Today, Ammoun’s patients need both health services and compassion. 

“If you lose a simple thing, such as your mobile phone, you will get upset,” Ammoun said. “Imagine then, how did those who left everything behind and headed towards the unknown feel?”

Health workers stand in the US- and European Union-supported health facility.
Some 14,000 safe deliveries have been performed at the clinic without a single maternal death. © UNFPA Jordan

Thousands safely delivered

Ammoun has delivered thousands of babies in her career as the head of midwifery and NICU at the UNFPA clinic in the Zaatari camp. UNFPA and the Jordan Health Aid Society International operate the clinic.

That clinic has performed more than 14,000 safe deliveries without a single maternal death

As one of the clinic’s 40 health staff, Announ has overseen many of these services. In addition to safe deliveries, they also provide referrals to mental health counseling and case management for survivors of violence. A women’s and girls’ safe space is also available in the same building as the clinic. 

“Ammoun is the backbone of this clinic,” said Dr. Ghada Doulat, director of the clinic. “She has become so indispensable that I cannot imagine the clinic without her. She is the one who gives us positive vibes to carry out our duties.”

Canada, the United States of America, and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, all major contributors to UNFPA’s humanitarian work, supported the clinic.

A health worker in PPE stands in the health centre
Services have resumed in full force as health workers received the personal protection equipment needed to safely operate during the pandemic. © UNFPA Jordan

Caring for her “daughters”

Conditions in Zaatari have been challenging in recent weeks, as the weather turns cold and health workers continue to struggle under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the pandemic first reached Jordan, Ammoun was unable to access the clinic due to movement restrictions.

Once Ammoun received her work permits, she had to work twice as hard to meet the needs of her clients to compensate for the severe shortages in authorized staff. 

Though the staff shortages have eased, Ammoun continues to work nearly around the clock. She spends six days a week at the clinic, with no thought of retiring any time soon. The pregnant women in the clinic are the family she was never able to have, she says.

“Maybe God did not intend for me to have children of my own, as I wasn’t able to conceive. However, I consider all the children as my own, because I was there for them when their eyes saw light for the first time,” she explained. 

As she wrapped up the interview, she prepared to receive more clients for routine prenatal check ups and post-partum care. It was time to tend to her “daughters,” she said, beaming. 

UNFPA originally published a verion of this story.

Dana Kirkegaard
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