Saving midwives in the battle against Covid-19

Written by Nelisiwe Msomi

The role of midwives need to be protected as an essential service to prevent increasing maternal mortality rates, say experts.

As South Africa needs to recognise midwives as a separate profession from nursing says the founder and President for the Society of Midwives of South Africa, Elgonda Bekker.

“And if we look at the situation around COVID 19 now that’s essentially the biggest danger because then since the majority of us, myself included, as a basic nursing qualification. You might then be called up to the higher service of nursing and we might get to the place choosing over the woman or just having normal births, but fortunately, as that gate has been closed formally. What we see at this stage is that all the ills that have existed beforehand are just manifesting themselves,” she says.

Bekker was speaking at a webinar by the Mail and Guadian, the United Nations Population Fund as well as the Commission for Gender Equality that focused on celebrating and honouring midwives in South Africa who are delivering frontline health services in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinar was moderated by Commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality and author Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng and included speakers such as Dr Muna Abdullah who is the Health System Specialist working for UNFPA and Dr Melinda Suchard who is the head for Centre for Vaccines and Immunology at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

 Protecting the maternal health workforce

All the experts agree that maternal and reproductive health services should always remain as essential services and not be compromised. This is to prevent an increase in maternal mortality rates.

“Historically, whenever a crisis happens, the hit system will not respond in the same way as the normal situation. We have seen it in many countries in our region which have been affected by different outbreaks, and Ebola is one example. And during this outbreaks,

Always, unless we have earlier warning and preparation, ahead of time, the health systems or routine health services will be compromised, And when it comes to maternal and newborn health services, they bear the consequences of being compromised” Muna says.

But Muna says that things were different with COVID 19 as governments were able to prepare for it.

“With coronavirus, there was an early preparation, there was a lot of guidance from a global level, WHO has issued guidance on continue to have essential services, apart from diagnosing and treatment of Coronavirus,” she adds.

Maintaining and protecting maternal health systems includes providing healthcare workers with the right information to help them carry out their duties during the pandemic,  says Suchard.

“In terms of occupational preparedness,  arming ourselves with knowledge is an important thing. Midwives who are insecure and scared are likely to take out that insecurity on the patients and the families and on the staff. It’s important for every midwife to arm themselves with facts and information and to fully prepare themselves so that they can feel confident and comfortable their daily tasks,” she says.

Providing safe and effective maternity care to women and their babies

Suchard highlights that the virus is not going to disappear anytime soon and so providing healthcare services that protect women and their children should be done in a manner that does not put them at risk of contracting Covid-19. She says that there is a need to put restrictive controls in place such as limiting the number of people who visit healthcare facilities.

She suggests measures like scheduling limited appointments and cutting down waiting time to make preventative strategies like social distancing easier to adhere to.

Tips for mothers to be 

Suchard says that it important that pregnant women empower themselves with knowledge during this time and practice social distancing measures and masking and hand washing. 

She stresses that mothers must know that it is essential for them to come to the antenatal visits, they must know that it’s essential to take their babies for vaccinations.

She advises mothers to stop working at 37 weeks into the pregnancy and start self-quarantine at home for the rest of the pregnancy.

“If mothers catch Covid19 rather than catch it somewhere early in the pregnancy. You really want to avoid is people catching it at a time when they need to come in, put in the healthcare workers at the risk of your spread and the difficulty of breastfeeding and all these discussions around what to do to admit mothers and babies together and so that all these complications can be avoided.” – Health-e News


About the author

Nelisiwe Msomi