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COVID-19, Pregnant Women, and Newborns at Risk

A pregnant woman in hospital during the pandemic
A pregnant woman in hospital during the pandemic

UNICEF estimated that 116 million babies have been given birth since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, underlining the immense threat pregnant women and newborns are under. The healthcare system around the world is overwhelmed, with a shortage of critical equipment and supplies, lack of skilled birth attendants, including midwives. “Millions of mothers all over the world embarked on a journey of parenthood in the world as it was”, said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “They now must prepare to bring a life into the world, as it has become – a world where expecting mothers are afraid to go to health centres for fear of getting infected, or missing out on emergency care due to strained health services and lockdowns”.

Henrietta Fore
Henrietta Fore

It is hard to imagine how much the pandemic has recast motherhood”.

In the nine months dating from when the pandemic was declared, the countries with the highest numbers of forecast births are expected to be India (20.1 million births), China (13.5 million births), Nigeria (6.4 million births ), Pakistan (5 million births) and Indonesia (4 million births). Most of these nations had high neonatal mortality rates even before the global health crisis. In India, 0.75 million neonates die every year, the number which is highest in the world.

At the same time, wealthier nations are also being hit severely, with their healthcare system collapsing as well. The UNited states projected that an excess of 3.3 million babies will be born between March 2020 and December 2020. UNICEF warned that even though no data shows that pregnant women are not at a higher risk of getting seriously ill, governments still need to ensure they have access to all necessary services, which includes treatment of sick-borns, emergency services, breastfeeding support, medicines, vaccines and keeping them safe. UNICEF said there is no evidence yet that the virus is transmitted from mother to unborn, but prevention is a must.

Two- 1 month old coronavirus infected babies recovered in Thailand
Two- 1 month old coronavirus infected babies recovered in Thailand

Pregnant ladies are advised to practice social distancing, use online services, and seek medical attention in case of any illness. A mother who has tested positive for COVID-19 must wear a mask while breastfeeding, and wash their hands before touching the baby, and they also need to continue routine immunization after the baby is born. Ms Fore said we are living in “a time for unity, a time to bring everyone together in solidarity”.

UNICEF appeal to Governments and healthcare providers

  • Help pregnant women receive antenatal checkups, skilled delivery care, postnatal care, and COVID-19 services if needed.

  • Provide health workers attending to pregnant women and newborns, with personal protective equipment (PPE), priority testing, and a COVID-19 vaccination when available.

  • Ensure infection prevention and control measures in health facilities are in place during and after childbirth.

  • Enable health care workers to conduct home visits for pregnant women and new mothers and use mobile health strategies for teleconsultations.

  • Train, protect, and equip health workers with clean birth kits for home deliveries where health facilities are closed.

  • Allocate resources to lifesaving services and supplies for maternal and child health.

Image Courtesy: WBUR

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