Exclusive: Women, Babies at Risk When COVID-19 Disrupts Health Services, World Bank Warns

LONDON (Reuters) – Millions of women and children in poor countries are at risk because the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting the health services they depend on, from neonatal and maternity care to immunizations and contraception, a health expert warned. World Bank Global.

FILE PHOTO: A doctor wearing a face shield uses an infrared thermometer to measure a child’s temperature at his mobile health clinic, after his clinic and its adjacent areas were declared a micro-containment zone, after authorities They eased the closure restrictions that were imposed. to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ahmedabad, India, June 15, 2020. REUTERS / Amit Dave

Monique Vledder, head of the secretariat of the bank’s Global Financing Fund (GFF), told Reuters in an interview that the agency was very concerned about the number of children who do not receive the vaccines, women who give birth without medical help and interrupted supplies of life-saving medications such as antibiotics. .

“We are very concerned about what is happening, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa,” Vledder said when he released the results of a GFF survey, one of the first to seek to assess the impact of COVID-19 on women’s health and children.

“Many of the countries we work in are fragile and, by definition, already have very difficult situations when it comes to the provision of health services. This is making things worse. ”

Since the end of March, the GFF has conducted monthly surveys with local staff in 36 countries to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on essential health services for women, children, and adolescents.

Sharing the survey results with Reuters, GFF said that of the countries that reported, 87% said that the pandemic, fears about the infection, or closure measures designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, had caused disruptions in the health work forces.

More than three-quarters of countries also reported interruptions in the supply of key medicines for mothers and babies, such as antibiotics to treat infections and oxytocin, a medicine to prevent excessive bleeding after delivery.

The number of GFF countries reporting service interruptions nearly doubled from 10 in April to 19 in June, and the number reporting that fewer people seeking essential health services increased to 22 in June from five in April.

GFF found that in Liberia, for example, fears about COVID-19 prevented parents from taking their children to health clinics. In Ghana, some pregnant and lactating mothers chose to postpone prenatal services and routine immunizations for fear of contracting pandemic disease.

“We are seeing a decrease in vaccination rates among children. We are seeing that women have less access to services for prenatal or postnatal care. We are seeing a decrease in babies born in health centers. And we are also seeing a drop in outpatient services, for example, for treatments for diarrhea, malaria, fever and pneumonia, ”said Vledder.

Rapidly decreasing access to reproductive health supplies is also a key concern, Vledder added. The GFF estimates that if the situation does not improve, up to 26 million women could lose access to contraception in the 36 countries, leading to almost 8 million unwanted pregnancies.

Report by Kate Kelland; Josephine Mason and Alex Richardson Edition

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