The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that nearly five million babies will be born in Pakistan in the nine months since the outbreak of COVID-19, while South Asia will have around 29 million births.
These babies are projected to be born up to “40 weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic – which currently strains health systems and medical supply chains around the world and generates concern for the health of their mothers and babies,” UNICEF said in a report.
Meanwhile, “20 million births are estimated in India, 2.4 million in Bangladesh and one million in Afghanistan,” the report said.
UNICEF warns that because the rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout South Asia means mothers and newborns will be welcomed by “bitter realities, including global containment measures such as locking and curfews.”
UNICEF, recognizing the importance of COVID-19 containment measures, warned that it could “disrupt life-saving health services such as childbirth care, putting millions of pregnant women and their babies at great risk”.
“Unicef warns that although evidence shows that pregnant women are not more affected by Covid-19 than others, countries need to ensure they still have access to antenatal, childbirth and post-natal services.
“Likewise, sick newborns need emergency services because they are at high risk of dying. New families need care to ensure the health and well-being of mothers, support to start breastfeeding, and to get medicines, vaccines and nutrients to keep their babies healthy, “said the report.
UNICEF has proposed several recommendations and called on the government and health service providers to follow them to save lives.
– Assist pregnant women to receive antenatal examinations, skilled delivery care, postnatal care services, and care related to COVID-19 as needed;
– Ensure health workers are given the necessary personal protective equipment and get priority testing and vaccination once the COVID-19 vaccine is available so that it can provide high-quality care for all pregnant women and newborns during a pandemic;
– Ensure that all infection prevention and control measures are in place at the health facility during labor and immediately afterwards;
– Allow health care workers to reach pregnant women and new mothers through home visits, encourage women living in remote areas to use maternal waiting homes, and by using mobile health strategies for teleconsultation;
– Train, protect and equip health workers with clean birth equipment to attend births at homes where health facilities are closed;
– Allocate resources for life-saving services and supplies for maternal and child health.
The UN agency urges mothers to take precautions and practice physical distance, avoid physical gatherings and use online health services.
“Continue to breastfeed their babies even if they are infected or suspected of being infected because the virus has not been found in the milk sample,” he added.