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Up to 5% of maternal deaths recorded this year blamed on COVID-19

COVID-19 has made it more difficult for mothers to get help

From January to date, the country has record about 830 maternal deaths whereby 2 to 5 per cent are attributed to complications of COVID-19

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Pregnant mothers seeking healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic face a high level of anxiety and other psychological challenges, according to new data by Twaweza.

These findings which come out after a recent incident where a newly operated mother committed suicide by jumping off a building at Kawempe National Referral Hospital. It shows that half of the women live in fear and are not confident that they would get appropriate treatment if they contracted COVID-19.

According to the data that comes from Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey, a representative mobile phone panel survey of citizens’ views and experiences, half of the women at 50 per cent and 54 per cent of men expressed this fear.

This time, Twaweza looked at the views and behaviours of Ugandan citizens in the health sector, with a particular focus on women’s experiences. Data was collected nationally in December 2020 from 1,590 respondents. They also collected data from 768 residents of Kampala, 639 residents of Kyotera and 622 residents of Tororo in June 2021.

Marie Nanyanzi, a programmes officer at Twaweza said because of the nature of many public hospitals often crowded with patients, pregnant women talked to reported fearing to contract the viral respiratory disease from hospitals.

At Kawempe National Referral Hospital, the Deputy Director Dr Lawrence Kazibwe says the new mother who died came asking to be birthed through a Caesarean Section and little did they know she also had depression. Kazibwe admits his staff forgot to do a mental state exam before the operation where the baby was removed dead.

Since then, the hospital has embarked on conducting a mental assessment on all mothers especially those that come to deliver.

The cause of  the baby’s death is not clear but Twaweza notes in their report that there has been a rise in stillbirths in the pandemic era even as they didn’t see significant reductions in hospital deliveries and antenatal care-seeking.

According to Dr Richard Mugahi, the Assistant Commissioner Reproductive & Infant Health at Ministry of Health, from January to date, the country has record about 830 maternal deaths whereby 2 to 5 per cent are attributed to complications of COVID-19.

Dr Imelda Namagembe, a Senior Consultant, Maternal Fetal Medicine at Mulago Specialized Women and Neonatal Hospital says pregnant women who get infected by COVID-19 often present late to care because both can present with similar symptoms which makes it difficult for a mother to tell whether the symptoms they have are COVID-related and not just weaknesses related to conception.

“Women don’t usually differentiate the two. Pregnancy just like COVID-19 causes low-grade fever, body weakness.  We also see that women who have had COVID-19 also, get Pre-eclampsia, the dangerous high blood pressure they get while pregnant”, she said encouraging women in their second and third trimesters to seek vaccination for COVID-19 if they can access it.

She urges pregnant women to take extra caution in observing COVID-19 preventive measures such as hand hygiene, wearing masks and avoiding crowds since they stand a risk of spreading the infection to their babies once they are born.

However, overall, apart from the pregnant women, respondents reported seeing an increase in Gender-based violence during the pandemic which are also often drivers for mental health illnesses.

Around half of or more citizens see increases in physical violence (51 per cent), emotional violence (51 per cent), sexual violence (46 per cent), teen pregnancy (79 per cent), alcohol consumption (58 per cent) and drug abuse (49 per cent).

According to the data, women and men are united in the perception that challenges facing women has increased during the pandemic. Similar proportions of men and women report increases in physical violence (men: 49 per cent), women: 54 per cent), emotional violence (men: 49 per cent), women: 53 per cent), sexual violence (men: 43 per cent, women: 49 per cent).

Nanyanzi says that 75 per cent of the respondents who experienced gender-based violence were  experiencing it for the first time and never reported.

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