Africa: Women's Rights In Childbirth Must Be Upheld During The Coronavirus Pandemic

Student midwife checking fetus

Lagos — 'The International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) is concerned that the human rights of women, their babies and their midwives are being violated by the introduction, in many countries, of inappropriate protocols for management of pregnancy, birth and postnatal care in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These inappropriate protocols are not based in current reputable evidence and are harmful to the wellbeing of women and their babies'

'As a woman, as a mother and grandmother, as Global Goodwill Ambassador to the International Confederation of Midwives since 2014, and as Founder of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa - conceived to ensure safer births - I share, endorse, and give my support to the grave concerns expressed by the ICM which represents over 1 million midwives and 600 country associations in more than 130 countries, that Women's Rights in Childbirth Must be Upheld During the Coronavirus Pandemic.'

'In every country and community worldwide, pregnancy and childbirth are momentous events in the lives of women and families and represent a time of intense vulnerability. The concept of "safe motherhood" is usually restricted to physical safety, but childbearing is also an important rite of passage, with deep personal and cultural significance for a woman and her family. Because motherhood is specific to women, issues of gender equity and gender violence are also at the core of maternity care. Thus, the notion of safe motherhood must be expanded beyond the prevention of morbidity or mortality to encompass respect for women's basic human rights including respect for women's autonomy, dignity, feelings, choices, and preferences, including the right to companionship during maternity care.'
'A childbearing woman's right to respectful maternity care focuses specifically on the inter-personal aspects of care received by women seeking maternity services. A woman's relationship with maternity care providers and the maternity care system during pregnancy and childbirth is vitally important. Not only are these encounters the vehicle for essential and potentially lifesaving health services, pregnant and recently pregnant  women's experiences with caregivers at this time have the impact to empower and comfort or to inflict lasting damage and emotional trauma, adding to or detracting from women's confidence and self-esteem. I have been disturbed and dismayed by news coverage and anecdotal reports of enforced separations of recently delivered mothers from their newborns, a cruel development with no medical justification.'

'The role of midwives as guardians of women's rights to health has been historically evidenced  since physician Ignaz Semmelweis documented the effects of hand hygiene on health in the 1800's, noting that women delivered by midwives' clean hands had higher survival outcomes than other patients in his hospital who perished, thereby announcing that hand hygiene, the same core infection prevention and control protocols being deployed to deliver the world from COVID today in 2020, saved lives.'

'The WHO recommendations on caring for pregnant and recently pregnant women with COVID-19 insist that to date, there is limited data on clinical presentation and perinatal outcomes after COVID-19 during pregnancy or the puerperium, and there is no evidence that pregnant women present with different signs or symptoms or are at higher risk of severe illness, and that considering asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 may be possible in pregnant or recently pregnant women, as with the general population, all women with epidemiologic history of contact should be carefully monitored.'

'I urge all policymakers to remember that women's memories of their childbearing experiences stay with them for a lifetime and are often shared with other women, contributing to a climate of confidence or doubt around childbearing.'

'Pregnant women around the world are already facing a crisis of uncertainty over where and how to access much needed routine antenatal and postnatal care as health facilities shut their doors to patients except those needing care for severe respiratory symptoms of the covid pandemic – As the world unites to combat, contain and control COVID-19, this is not the time to needlessly assault the rights of childbearing women at their most vulnerable point of need, we must respect the rights of a woman in childbirth, during the coronavirus, and always, for every woman, and her newborn, for all, everywhere.'

The WHO recommendations can be viewed here:

ICM's statement and advice is available here:

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