Nearly five million babies are expected to be born in Pakistan in nine months since the outbreak of COVID-19, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed, while South Asia will have approximately 29 million births.
These babies are projected to be born up to “40 weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic—which is currently straining health systems and medical supply chains all over the world and is generating concern for mothers’ health and that of their newborns,” UNICEF said in a report.
Meanwhile, “20 million births are expected in India, 2.4 million Bangladesh, and one million in Afghanistan”, the report read.
UNICEF warned that due to the continuing rapid spread of COVID-19 across South Asia, new mothers and newborns will be greeted by “harsh realities, including global containment measures such as lockdowns and curfews”.
UNICEF, acknowledging the importance of COVID-19 containment measures, warned that they could “disrupt life-saving health services such as childbirth care, putting millions of pregnant mothers and their babies at great risk”.
“UNICEF cautions that although evidence suggests that pregnant mothers are not more affected by Covid-19 than others, countries need to ensure they still have access to antenatal, delivery and post-natal services.
“Likewise, sick newborns need emergency services as they are at high risk of death. New families require care to ensure the health and well-being of mothers, support to start breastfeeding, and to get medicines, vaccines and nutrition to keep their babies healthy,” the report said.
UNICEF has proposed a few recommendations and requested governments and healthcare providers to follow them to save lives:
– Helping pregnant women to receive antenatal checkups, skilled delivery care, postnatal care services, and care related to COVID-19 as needed;
– Ensuring health workers are provided with the necessary personal protective equipment and get priority testing and vaccination once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available so that can deliver high quality care to all pregnant women and newborn babies during the pandemic;
– Guaranteeing that all infection prevention and control measures are in place in health facilities during childbirth and immediately after;
– Allowing health care workers to reach pregnant women and new mothers through home visits, encouraging women living in remote areas to use maternal waiting homes, and by using mobile health strategies for teleconsultations;
– Training, protecting and equipping health workers with clean birth kits to attend home births where health facilities are closed;
– Allocating resources to lifesaving services and supplies for maternal and child health.
The UN body urged mothers to take precautionary measures and practice physical distancing, avoid physical gatherings and use online health services.
Mothers should “continue breastfeeding their baby even if they are infected or suspect being infected as the virus has not been found in samples of breastmilk”, it added.