Cairo — As soon as she started her ninth month of pregnancy, Mayada Reda started coughing and feeling feverish. Then she lost her sense of taste and smell. "I texted my doctor and I explained to her how I was feeling, and she told me these are symptoms of COVID-19," Ms. Reda recalled.
She was terrified.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in Egypt, infecting more than 84,000 people and killing more than 4,000, according to the World Health Organization.
Fears over the disease have left many pregnant anxious about seeking maternal health care and risking possible exposure to the illness. If they forgo care, they could risk having undiagnosed complications.
For pregnant women who fall sick with COVID-19, the situation is even more challenging. How can they seek care without exposing others to the virus?
Care under quarantine
UNFPA has been working closely with the Ministry of Health and Population to help ensure continued access to the full range of maternal health services, including antenatal check ups, safe delivery services and postpartum care. These services must remain available to all pregnant women, including those who fall sick with COVID-19.
With health officials, UNFPA helped to develop standard operating procedures for providing care amid pandemic conditions. This includes infection-control measures at primary health levels, and measures to safely provide delivery services and postnatal care for COVID-19 patients in secondary health institutions and isolation sites.
These procedures helped Dr. Yehia Diwar organize a system for serving pregnant women with COVID-19.
Dr. Diwar - a gynecologist and head of emergency services at the October 6 University Hospital in Cairo - was under quarantine because he was treating COVID-19 patients. He proposed to the Ministry of Health and Population that pregnant COVID-19 patients be transferred to his hospital so he could provide obstetric care to them.
He has so far helped 10 COVID-19 patients safely deliver their babies, and is following up with 12 to 15 more.
Relief and recovery
Ms. Reda was one of these patients.
After her diagnosis, she self-isolated in her home. "I had to stay away from everyone in my family, including my 5-year-old daughter Farida," she said.
Just days later, she went into labour and was taken to the October 6 University Hospital.
Dr. Diwar's team helped her deliver a healthy baby boy, Mohamed. Ms. Reda was overcome with relief when the delivery went well.
"As soon as they pulled the baby out, the doctor told me to look to my left," she recalled. "He showed me the baby and said, 'That's Mohamed. Can you see him?'"
She has since recovered and returned home with her new son.
The COVID-19 virus was only discovered at the end of 2019, and much remains unknown about its effect on pregnancy. Dr. Diwar therefore advises pregnant women to get checked out as soon as they start to feel any symptoms of illness.
"The sooner you detect the symptoms, the better your chances are at treatment and recovery," he explained.
Ms. Reda has some advice, too. Pregnancy is stressful enough by itself. With added anxieties caused by the pandemic, she wants pregnant women - especially those who fall sick - to prioritize their health and welfare.
"The most important things are your nutrition and your mental well-being," she said. "If you maintain both, then consider yourself recovered."