In the scorching heat of the Khazana refugee camp on the outskirts of Peshawar in Northwest Pakistan, women are lining up, waiting for their turn to receive medical care. Among them are women who have walked long distances, carrying their children to reach the campsite. The medical camp, run by the Rahnuma-Family Planning Association of Pakistan (R-FPAP), a Member Association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), provides a range of services, including general health check-ups and sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.
Shazia was among the many women waiting in line at the mobile medical camp. When she learned about RFPAP's community awareness sessions, she decided to overcome fear and cultural taboo and attend. "My previous short-term family planning method didn't work for me, and it resulted in an unintended pregnancy. The community awareness session in a women-friendly space convinced me to consult with the medical team and choose a long-term family-planning option," she explains.
Sadia, a 28-year-old mother of four who had fled her home in Afghanistan, had no access to family planning services since leaving her country. "With four children, providing for them is becoming extremely challenging, I cannot afford to have any more. The mobile medical camps have enabled me to access a long-term family planning method and other needed services," she says.
Pakistan is home to 1.4 million Afghan refugees displaced by decades of war. Women in refugee camps face significant challenges in accessing essential healthcare services, including SRH, putting them at greater risk of maternal mortality, unintended pregnancies, and unsafe abortions. To address these issues, R-FPAP provides SRH services through mobile medical camps in four districts in Balochistan. Between August 2022 and January 2023, R-FPAP organised 247 medical camps to cater to the SRH needs of Afghan refugees, successfully providing a total of 140,545 SRH services to 13,303 individuals.
Supported by the Australian Government-funded RESPOND project, the medical camps primarily serve women and girls, who comprise more than 90% of their clients. Most women are married with children. They require SRH services such as obstetric, gynaecological, and antenatal care, sexually transmitted infections (STI) testing, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) support.
Women in refugee camps in Pakistan face a higher risk of SGBV, leading to physical and psychological harm, unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Stigma surrounding SRH issues in many communities exacerbates this problem, making it challenging for women to seek support. There is a critical need for accessible, affordable SRH services in Pakistan, especially for women facing cultural and societal barriers to healthcare.
"The RESPOND project has taken a crucial step in the right direction by providing safe spaces for Afghan refugee survivors of GBV, where they can feel safe and receive the support they need. Long-standing inequities have perpetuated harm and left survivors feeling isolated. However, we are making progress by increasing awareness and offering confidential and specialised services,” says Dr Anjum Rizvi, Director Program Management Division, R-FPAP.
The program's impact is evident, with over 18,000 survivors of GBV receiving support and referrals to specialist services. The medical camps are instrumental in providing essential SRH services to Afghan refugees, women and girls, helping to improve their overall health and well-being. As the women leave the camp, they do so with a renewed sense of hope and confidence, knowing they have the support they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.