NATIONAL NEWS - Stillbirths, maternal deaths, depression: the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the health of pregnant women and their babies, a new study shows.
In a review of data from 40 studies from 17 countries, published in the peer reviewed journal The Lancet Global Health, researchers found significant increases in the incidence of stillbirth, maternal death, and ruptured ectopic pregnancy, and in maternal depression scores during the pandemic.
An ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency in which a fertilised egg implants itself outside the uterus.
Findings varied by country, but analysis of pooled data showed stillbirth and maternal mortality rates increased by almost a third during the pandemic compared to before Covid-19. The odds of having a stillbirth increased by 28% during the pandemic, the researchers said.
Outcomes were worse in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. The researchers said: “There is an urgent need to prioritise safe, accessible, and equitable maternity care within the strategic response to this pandemic and in future health crises.”
Professor Asma Khalil, lead author of the study, of St George’s University of London, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on health care systems around the world. Disruption to services, nationwide lockdowns, and fear of attending health care facilities mean that the adverse effects of Covid-19 are expected to have health consequences that extend beyond the deaths and disease caused by the virus itself.”
The increases in stillbirths and other problems might be driven mostly by the inefficiency of health-care systems and their inability to cope with the pandemic, the researchers said.
“During its peak prevalence, maternity staff have been redeployed to support critical care and medical teams, reducing the staffing available for maternity care.”
Nationwide lockdowns, disruption of health-care services, and fear of attending health-care facilities might also have affected the wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies, they said.
Intimate-partner violence, already a leading cause of maternal death, increased during the pandemic. Women were more likely to become unemployed and also more likely to take on more childcare during closures of creches and schools.
The authors said: “It is clear that pregnant individuals and babies have been subjected to harm during the pandemic, and the onus is on the academic community, health-care providers, and policy-makers to learn from it. Women’s health-care is often adversely affected in humanitarian disasters and our findings highlight the central importance of planning for robust maternity services in any emergency response.”