How South Africa is integrating COVID into routine care for mothers and babies

Posted on May 11, 2022

Pregnant women are not at an increased risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2. But data show they are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease. This is especially the case in the last 12 weeks of pregnancy, and this is still the case two years into the pandemic.

In South Africa, this risk equated to an additional 16 COVID-19-related maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to maternal deaths in uninfected women. This mortality rate is similar to that of disorders related to high blood pressure in pregnancy. As in other populations, pregnant women with high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are at higher risk of severe COVID-19.

Between February and April 2020 family planning rates dropped by around 35% and immunisation coverage by approximately 25%. The health system was significantly hindered due to staff being sick, isolated, quarantined, redeployed or suffering from burnout or other mental health issues.

Gains that had been made in some key areas of maternal and newborn health before the pandemic also suffered. Women were not allowed to have birth companions present at the time of delivery. Kangaroo mother care for premature babies was halted in some settings. And some mothers were separated from their newborns due to COVID-19 rules and restrictions. The narrow focus on COVID-19 also set back many other health programmes, including HIV and TB care.

Two years down the line, South Africa has reached what many believe to be a turning point in the pandemic. Around 80% of the population has immunity, whether by previous infection, vaccination, or combination thereof. In addition, most of the COVID-related restrictions have been removed.

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Published by Sanele Mntla

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