There is currently no data showing the impact of the coronavirus on pregnant women. But according to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), pregnant women are more vulnerable to respiratory viruses because of their weakened immune system.
Last week, South Africa recorded the first neonatal mortality related to Covid-19. The 2–day–old baby was born prematurely and had lung difficulties, which required ventilation support immediately after birth, the national department of health says in a statement.
“The mother had tested positive for Covid-19 and the child subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 as well. It is important to appreciate the complexities of the underlying condition of prematurity.”
OurHealth has spoken to various pregnant women from across the country about their concerns with the chance of being infected with Covid-19 as they try to access prenatal care form their health care facilities.
Moloi, in Free State’s Bethlehem, says pregnant women are not given first preference like patients who have chronic conditions. She says that they are made to stand in long lines with other patients.
Mathapelo Koena (31) from Ikageng in the North West is four months pregnant. She says that despite safety measures that are in place at clinics, the fear will always be there.
“This has to be a very stressful and hard time for us expecting mothers because it’s not only about making sure you [are] safe, but you must think [of] two people because there’s two of us in this body. As much as I prefer to stay [at] home and be safe, I need my check-ups, they [are] very important, so I have to put my life at risk to ensure my baby will develop fine,” she says.
She adds that the news about a nurse at Promosa Clinic who tested positive for Covid-19 has made her sceptical about visiting a clinic. “Last week we heard a nurse tested positive for corona, that made me think twice before visiting a clinic, that just shows no matter how government tries to protect us, this virus will find a way.”
Lerato Chauke, who is also from Ikageng, says that she had to revise her prenatal care plans with her doctor since the virus hit South Africa.
“Me and my doctor had a talk. He decided I see him once every three weeks rather than twice a month, so that’s one of the safety measures we took.”
Chauke says practising social distancing has been a central part of her life now. “My friends and family know that right now I don’t want to see them, we can call but no physical contact, because I might be [at] home safe, but if I allow someone from out to come in, I’m putting myself at risk by exposing myself. If there’s one thing I can’t control, that’s giving birth at the hospital, I would have no choice but to go sleep there, so that’s very stressful for me because it’s a situation I have no control over. But I trust our health system, that all necessary safety precautions will be taken.”
Simphiwe Buthelezi (24) from Phumula Gardens in Ekurhuleni says that this is a terrifying time for her.
‘’I am beyond terrified about what the next five months have in store for me. I have just found out that I am now four months pregnant and as a first-time mother to be, I am so scared and stressed out about how to protect myself and my unborn baby,” she tells OurHealth.
“When I first found out I was even scared to go to the clinic to confirm my pregnancy and to start with taking care of my pregnancy. But then my aunt encouraged me to go, so I went to Rondebult Clinic which is the closest to me,” she says.
Lesego Legodi (23) is a first-time expectant mother too. She says that she lives in constant fear because she has to use two taxis to get to the clinic for check-ups. “I use public transport and in most times drivers don’t put on masks and that frustrates me. I worry that people are not taking coronavirus seriously. I am always scared for me and my baby,” she says.
She is also stressed about being infected when she gives birth. “I’m afraid about when I give birth. Will the place be clean? Will any of the doctors and nurses be infected? What if my baby gets infected?” Legodi questions.
Doing everything they can
But the national department of health tells Health-e News that they have put measures in place to protect mothers and their babies.
“Routine prenatal care includes screening pregnant women for symptoms of Covid-19. [If found positive] symptomatic mothers are nursed separately from all other women and are attended by a delegated nurses who does not manage all other women. Health care workers are trained to take precautionary measures to ensure social distancing,” says the department‘s spokesperson Popo Maja.
He says that health care facilities have put restrictions on the number of visitors on maternity wards and have also put on hold the routine use of dullas or labour companions or partner in birthing. In instances where there is potential overcrowding, no visitors are allowed in maternity wards
“Each maternity ward has [a] dedicated section to manage women who are investigated for the disease based on the contact history and those who are confirmed to have the disease. Only in severe cases were the mother or baby is unwell that the two are separated… to protect the babies from being infected. Mothers are encouraged to wear [a] mask but continue to breastfeed the babies,” Maja explains.
Prenatal care guidelines
As expectant mothers need to access health care during their pregnancy, the World Health Organisation has recommended the following when visiting health care facilities:
- Wash your hand frequently with soap for 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser,
- Avoid touching mouth, eyes and nose,
- Space yourself between others, and;
- Cough into your elbow or tissue.
It is advisable that pregnant women refrain from unnecessary travel, avoid crowds, public transport, contact with sick people, and more importantly, observe and maintain good personal and social hygiene, the CDC says. – Health-e News
For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.