COVID-19 Pandemic- Impact on Sexual and Reproductive Health Right and Maternal Health

The COVID-19 pandemic rings true to all over the world. Though it is putting people of all ages and gender at risk, the women especially pregnant mothers are experiencing immense stress and series of questions have been kneeling down in their minds as they might be unable to reach to health facilities and receive doctor’s attention in case of complications and in the case when the state is in a lockdown situation. Various resources mentioned that 56 recently delivered mothers have died during this lockdown period (24 March-2nd June 2020) whereas 60,000 women were deprived of needful checkup and other services.

The mothers from all over the world might be embarked on a journey of parenthood, and also might be preparing to bring a life into a world as it has become. However, now is the situation where most of the expecting mothers are afraid to go to health facilities of getting infected of COVID-19 and there is limited access to health facilities. Moreover, during this time the tracking of pregnancies will intensify as prenatal checkups become virtual and fear of virus deters women from seeking checkups.

In Nepal, it is difficult for expecting mothers to regularly consult the ANMs, nurses, and doctors for prenatal health check-ups. They often have to travel a long way on foot to the nearest health facilities, sometimes across very rough terrain.  And even if they reach there the chances of not having trained health personnel, needful medicines and a welcoming environment. Meanwhile, because of nationwide lockdown, the restriction of physical movement and social distancing compounded with a fear of contracting the virus negatively impacts the health-seeking behavior of pregnant women.

Many pregnant women and new mothers stopped visiting health facilities for antenatal and postnatal check-ups unless there is an emergency so there is a decrement in ANC and PNC visit”, says Amrita Rai, one of the Female Community Health Volunteers from Illam district who is also tracking pregnancy using mobile technology in her area. Nevertheless, she gets calls from pregnant mothers regarding any queries related to pregnancy and she also supported them in the ways she could.

In this pandemic situation, Karuna Foundation Nepal’s Best Wishes Program with the mHealth component in partnership with Medic Mobile, a tool developed to capture data of pregnant women and to track whether they utilized recommended antenatal care services, institutional delivery and postnatal care services has proven to be very effective. This mechanism aided to inform about the defaulter so that health workers can follow up with the women. Though the lockdown situation forces all to stay at home through this program, KFN has been able to provide counseling and other necessary bridging with pregnant women to health facilities. And the tracking of pregnant women is still in a continuation which helped for the flow of information on registration of pregnancy, due dates of services, and confirmation of services used. The program also covers Barahakshetra Municipality, Duhabi Municipality, and soon reaching other 57 Palikas the coming year, 2020/21.

Although pregnancy is a joyous time for most women and their families, however with the spiraling out of this pandemic women and family experience a range of emotions leading to anxiety. In this context, pregnant women seem more vulnerable. Nevertheless, in developing countries like Nepal, if health systems redirect resources away from regular sexual and reproductive health services, women’s access to family planning, antenatal, delivery, and postnatal care and other services could suffer. Assuring pregnant women have access to safe birth and continuum of antenatal, delivery and postnatal care in this insurgency assumes great importance though it is indeed challenging.

All in all, throughout this crisis, women will continue to become pregnant and give birth, deserving the right to safe maternity services. The only need is a well-managed system that allows pregnant women to access maternal health care with minimum exposure risk is essential during this pandemic. More support and enabling environment from husband and family members is key to safer pregnancy-safer delivery and safer infancy.

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