Addis Ababa — Today Ethiopia has more than 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a fact that has placed the country's midwives on high alert.
"Midwives cannot maintain physical distance with a labouring mother like in other wards, making them too prone to acquiring infection with the virus," said Dawit Mequanint, a midwife working in the Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital, the country's largest tertiary hospital.
Around the world, doctors and midwives are struggling to obtain enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from infection while they provide life-saving services to patients. Mr. Dawit and his colleagues are no exception: They say there has been an acute shortage of protective equipment, including eye goggles, aprons, face masks and hand sanitizers.
He added that he is trying his best to update himself with information about the pandemic so that he can safely provide care to expectant and new mothers and their newborns. He is also teaching pregnant women about social distancing and sanitizing techniques.
But more support is needed, he said. "Not enough is being done to train front-line health-care workers like us, despite our efforts at containing the spread of the virus."
Prioritizing the most vulnerable
Mr. Dawit worries that the pandemic is discouraging women from seeking essential services, including maternal health care. He says they may already be seeing a slight decrease in the number of women arriving for antenatal, delivery and postnatal care services.
UNFPA is providing technical guidance and coordinating with partners to distribute emergency reproductive health kits and PPE to health workers, and to supply dignity kits containing essential hygiene supplies to communities.
These efforts are part of a 6-month pandemic response plan to address the needs of the most vulnerable women and girls, including those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. The plan also prioritizes the protection of Ethiopia's health workforce, the continuity of reproductive health care and supplies, and addresses the increase in women's vulnerability to gender-based violence.
The Ethiopian Midwives Association, with funding from UNFPA and support from regional health bureaus, is raising awareness about how to prevent COVID-19 infection. Information is being disseminated in different regional languages in the country.
For the country, for the next generation
Despite the risks, Mr. Dawit says he is as committed as ever to supporting the women who arrive at his hospital. "I will not succumb to short-lived challenges and give up," he said.
"For a generation and country to continue, someone has to ensure that mothers and their infants are safe. That someone is a midwife," he said.