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Health system overload threatens pregnant women and newborns – UNICEF

New Born Baby at Kawempe Referral Hospital in Uganda

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT |  More than 116 million babies have been born since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but pregnant women and newborns remain under increasing threat from strained health services and supply chains, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

The agency is now calling for governments to maintain life-saving services for New mothers and their babies who are facing systems in crisis, including overwhelmed health centres, supply and equipment shortages; and a 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,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said. “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”.

In Uganda, mothers were initially required to seek permission from the Resident District Commissioners before moving out of their homes for antenatal care and childbirth. But the restriction was waived as the risks outweighed the intent.

Ahead of Mother’s Day, recognized in May across more than 128 countries, the UNICEF chief warned that this is a particularly poignant Mother’s Day, as many families have been forced apart during the coronavirus pandemic and it remains hard to imagine how much the pandemic has recast motherhood.

UNICEF warns that although evidence suggests that pregnant mothers are not at greater risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 than other groups, countries still need to ensure they have access to antenatal, delivery and postnatal services. Likewise, sick newborns need emergency services and new mothers require breastfeeding support, as well as medicines, vaccines and nutrition to keep their babies healthy.

While it is not yet known whether the coronavirus can be transmitted from a mother to her unborn baby, UNICEF recommends that all pregnant women protect themselves from the virus, closely monitor themselves for COVID-19 indications and seek medical advice if they have concerns or experience symptoms.

They are advised to also practice physical distancing, use online health services and seek early medical care if they live in at-risk areas and have fever, cough or difficulty breathing. And they should speak to their midwife or doctor about the safest place to give birth along with making a birth plan to reduce anxiety.

UNICEF urges continued breastfeeding, even if a mother is infected or suspects she is, as the virus has not been found present in samples of breastmilk taken for analysis. It adds that mothers with COVID-19 should wear a mask when feeding their baby, wash hands before and after touching the child, routinely clean and disinfect surfaces and continue to hold their newborn.

They should continue medical support, including routine immunizations, after the baby, is born.

“We can help save lives by making sure that every pregnant mother receives the support she needs to give birth safely in the months to come”, concluded the UNICEF chief.

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