Coronavirus: Health System Overload Threatens Pregnant Women And Newborns

Inthe nine months span dating from when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, thecountries with the highest numbers of forecast births are expected to be India(20.1 million), China (13.5 million), Nigeria (6.4 million), Pakistan (5million) and Indonesia (4 million).

New mothers and their babies are facing systems in crisis,including overwhelmed health centres; supply and equipment shortages; and alack of skilled birth attendants, including midwives. “Millions of mothers all over the world embarked on ajourney of parenthood in the world as it was”, said Henrietta Fore, UNICEFExecutive Director. “They now must prepare to bring a life into the world, as ithas become – a world where expecting mothers are afraid to go to health centresfor fear of getting infected, or missing out on emergency care due to strainedhealth services and lockdowns”.
Ahead of Mother’s Day, recognized in May across more than128 countries, the UNICEF chief warned: “This is a particularly poignantMother’s Day, as many families have been forced apart during the coronaviruspandemic…It is hard to imagine how much the pandemic has recast motherhood”.

Country ranked birthrates
In the nine months span dating from when COVID-19 wasdeclared a pandemic, the countries with the highest numbers of forecast birthsare expected to be India (20.1 million), China (13.5 million), Nigeria (6.4million), Pakistan (5 million) and Indonesia (4 million). Most of these nationshad high neonatal mortality rates even before the global health crisis. And wealthier countries are also being seriously impacted,as trust and supplies run low. The sixth highest country for expected births,the United States, is projected to see in excess of 3.3 million babies bornbetween 11 March and 16 December. In New York City, authorities are looking into alternativebirthing centres as many women are worried about delivering their babies inhospitals, due to the risk of infection. UNICEF warns that although evidence suggests that pregnantmothers are not at greater risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 than othergroups, countries still need to ensure they have access to antenatal, deliveryand postnatal services.Likewise, sick newborns need emergency services and newmothers require breastfeeding support, as well as medicines, vaccines andnutrition to keep their babies healthy.

Practical advice
While it is not yet known whether the coronavirus can betransmitted from a mother to her unborn baby, UNICEF recommends that allpregnant women protect themselves from the virus, closely monitor themselvesfor COVID-19 indications and seek medical advice if they have concerns orexperience symptoms.They are advised to also practice physical distancing, useonline health services and seek early medical care if they live in at-riskareas and have fever, cough or difficulty breathing.And they should speak to their midwife or doctor about thesafest place to give birth along with making a birth plan to reduce anxiety.NursingUNICEF urges continued breastfeeding, even if a mother isinfected or suspects she is, as the virus has not been found present in samplesof breastmilk taken for analysis. Mothers with COVID-19 should wear a mask when feeding theirbaby, wash hands before and after touching the child, routinely clean anddisinfect surfaces and continue to hold their newborn. They should continue medical support, including routineimmunizations, after the baby is born.Ms. Fore said we are living in “a time for unity, a time tobring everyone together in solidarity”. “We can help save lives by making sure that every pregnantmother receives the support she needs to give birth safely in the months tocome”, concluded the UNICEF chief.

Nursing
UNICEF urges continued breastfeeding, even if a mother isinfected or suspects she is, as the virus has not been found present in samplesof breastmilk taken for analysis. Mothers with COVID-19 should wear a mask when feeding theirbaby, wash hands before and after touching the child, routinely clean anddisinfect surfaces and continue to hold their newborn. They should continue medical support, including routineimmunizations, after the baby is born.Ms. Fore said we are living in “a time for unity, a time tobring everyone together in solidarity”. “We can help save lives by making sure that every pregnantmother receives the support she needs to give birth safely in the months tocome”, concluded the UNICEF chief.

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 pregnantwomen and newborns, with personal protective equipment (PPE), priority testingand a COVID-19 vaccination when available.
·Ensure infection prevention and control measuresin health facilities are in place during and after childbirth.
·Enable health care workers conduct home visitsfor pregnant women and new mothers and use mobile health strategies forteleconsultations.
· Train, protect and equip health workers withclean birth kits for home deliveries where health facilities are closed.Allocate resources to lifesaving services and suppliesfor maternal and child health    

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