The covid19 pandemic has left most expectant women with uncertainties of how vulnerable they are to it. In the UK, Public Health England chief medical officer Chris Whitty announced that pregnant women are at a high risk of severe illness from coronavirus. He stated this is “a precautionary measure” because ““we are early in our understanding of this virus and we want to be sure”.
What are the health risk to pregnant women who catch covid19?
According to the WHO (world health organisation), the virus infects people of all ages. However, two groups of people are at a higher risk of being severely affected by covid19.These are the aged and those with underlying medical conditions. This does not mean that expectant women are immune to the virus, just like any other person they can be infected and thus should adhere to all preventive measures.
There is no recorded evidence of vertical transmission which refers to infected expectant women passing the virus to the baby while pregnant. Through a report written by David W. Kimberlin, MD, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, University of Alabama at Birmingham, in reference to a case in China where three infected women gave birth to three babies who were suspected to have been infected with covid19 in the womb, he stated, “Evidence for such transmission is based on elevated IgM antibody values in blood drawn from the neonates following birth. All infants also had elevated IgG antibody values and cytokine levels, although these may have crossed the placenta from the mother to the infant. No infant specimen had a positive reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction test result, so there is not virologic evidence for congenital infection in these cases to support the serologic suggestion of in utero transmission.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that “There is no evidence that pregnant women present with different signs or symptoms or are at higher risk of severe illness. So far, there is no evidence on mother-to-child transmission when infection manifests in the third trimester … WHO recommends that caesarean section should ideally be undertaken only when medically justified.”
The effect on antenatal and postnatal care
With a lot of health workers' concentration diverted to support in management of this pandemic and policy measures given on behavioural protocols geared towards limiting the spread of this disease, many expectant women have been forced to put on hold their antenatal care. This does not only affect those who are pregnant - but through our survey (conducted last week) Child.org have found that even postnatal care is being affected, “I postponed visiting the clinic for my seven month old baby until this disease ends,” said one of our mothers.
This pandemic poses a great danger to maternal health care because these appointments are vital to ensure the health of mother and baby. Encouraging mums to seek antenatal and postnatal care is a core aim of Child.org’s Team Mum programmes - including our Baby Box programme as well as our Pregnant Women’s Groups.
A lack of information
In Meru where we have our pregnant women groups, the sessions have been suspended. However, women we have been speaking to in Meru believe that “Coronavirus is for those who board planes and those in Nairobi.” This calls for a need in action to see our expectant women there gain the knowledge on how to protect themselves and the baby. This is one of the myths around this pandemic that Child.org needs to tackle urgently. As a result, we are exploring means through which we can reach these women with the right information.
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