Routine antenatal care that could have saved many pregnancies was unavailable to the most vulnerable.
A clutch of studies, Nature reports, has revealed a shocking cost of the pandemic—the rise in proportion of pregnancies that ended in stillbirths (deaths of the baby in the womb). With access to healthcare eroded because of the lockdown, and supply-chain of crucial nutritional and pharmacological support essential for safe pregnancy disrupted, many women lost their babies.
The thinning of healthcare access meant that complications that could lead to stillbirths went unnoticed/untreated. With national Covid-19 control protocols advising pregnant women not to visit healthcare facilities, unintended loss of pregnancies could have occurred. The largest study on the topic, drawing on data of 20,000 women in nine hospitals in Nepal, noted an increase of 50% in stillbirths.
What makes matters worse is, with institutionalised delivery likely to have fallen because of lockdown and pregnant women (or families) choosing to avoid hospitals, the actual stillbirth rates could be higher. Routine antenatal care that could have saved many pregnancies was unavailable to the most vulnerable.
But, what is interesting is that the trend was noticed even in developed countries like the UK, and not just low- and low-middle income countries. Indeed, while advances in telemedicine have helped bridge a lot of gaps in access to healthcare, in the case of antenatal care the requirement is for in-person consultation and monitoring—the UK reported lesser number of women coming in for hypertension, which could mean hypertension in many pregnant women, which is a stillbirth risk, went unreported.
As the world learns to live with the SARS-CoV-2, it will need to address such human costs of the pandemic.
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