Photo credit: Rachel Glasby |The Silk Road, for Birthing Kit Foundation Australia, Ethiopia 2019.
The COVID-19 Crisis is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges that the global community has had to face this century. As many world-class health systems fight to respond to this unexpected pandemic, we must not overlook the indirect consequences that disease outbreaks have on vulnerable groups of people.
Current evidence suggests that pregnant women are at no greater risk of illness from COVID-19 than the standard population (1). However, the indirect impacts of this disease outbreak are significantly heightening the risk of poor health outcomes for vulnerable women and girls around the world.
Evidence from prior events suggests that the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls is increasingly threatened during health crisis’ (2, 4). Pre-existing inequalities worsen, with women, children and socially marginalised people often enduring the consequences. Reports of gender-based violence has markedly increased since the onset of the current crisis (3, 4).
The heightened demand for medical supplies and subsequent supply chain disruptions have made it even more difficult for underserved communities to get the health commodities that they so desperately need – including equipment that helps prevent maternal and infant mortality.
Many nation-wide lockdowns and quarantine regulations are preventing women from accessing essential care during pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period. As already-fragile health systems come under increasing pressure, it is likely that essential sexual and reproductive health services will be interrupted or reduced (4).
At times like these, it is essential that governments and aid organisations work in collaboration and address the issues facing the most vulnerable people. Support to expectant mothers in high-need settings must continue if we wish to reduce the burden faced by women and reduce preventable mortality and morbidity. Every day, an estimated 808 women die due to causes related to pregnancy or childbirth (5) – this number is already too high; we must not let it get higher.
(1) WHO Team 2020, Q&A on COVID-19, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding, Newsroom, World Health Organisation Geneva, 18 March. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-on-covid-19-pregnancy-childbirth-and-breastfeeding
(2) Kanem, N (Executive Director, UNFPA) 2020, Women, girls, health workers must not be overlooked in global COVID-19 response, Press, United Nations Population Fund New York, 26 March. Available at: https://www.unfpa.org/press/women-girls-health-workers-must-not-be-overlooked-global-covid-19-response
(3) UNMIK 2020, Security and Gender Group Calls for Prevention of Domestic Violence Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, United Nations Kosovo, March 24. Available at: https://unmik.unmissions.org/security-and-gender-group-calls-prevention-domestic-violence-amid-covid-19-pandemic
(4) UNFPA 2020, ‘COVID-19: A gender lens – protecting sexual and reproductive health rights, and promoting gender equality’, Technical Brief, United Nations Population Fund New York. Available at: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/COVID-19_A_Gender_Lens_Guidance_Note.pdf
(5) UNFPA 2020, Maternal Health, United Nations Population Fund, New York. Available at: https://www.unfpa.org/maternal-health.