Pregnant mothers and babies born during COVID-19 pandemic threatened by strained health systems

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With 116 million expected births in the approximately 9 months since the COVID pandemic was recognized, UNICEF calls on governments and donors to maintain life-saving services for pregnant women and newborns.

An estimated 116 million babies will be born under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF said today ahead of Mother’s Day. These babies are projected to be born up to 40 weeks after COVID-19 – currently straining health systems and medical supply chains all over the world – was recognized as a pandemic on March 11.
 
New mothers and newborns will be greeted by harsh realities, UNICEF said, including global containment measures such as lockdowns and curfews; health centres overwhelmed with response efforts; supply and equipment shortages; and a lack of sufficient skilled birth attendants as health workers, including midwives, are redeployed to treat COVID-19 patients.

“Millions of mothers all over the world embarked on a journey of parenthood in the world as it was. They now must prepare to bring a life into the world as it has become – a world where expecting mothers are afraid to go to health centres for fear of getting infected, or missing out on emergency care due to strained health services and lockdowns,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “It is hard to imagine how much the coronavirus pandemic has recast motherhood.”

Countries with the expected highest numbers of births in the 9 months since the pandemic declaration are: India (20.1 million), China (13.5 million), Nigeria (6.4 million), Pakistan (5 million) and Indonesia (4 million). Most of these countries had high neonatal mortality rates even before the pandemic and may see these levels increase with COVID-19 conditions.
 
Even wealthier countries are affected by this crisis. In the US, the sixth highest country in terms of expected number of births, over 3.3 million babies are projected to be born between March 11 and December 16. In New York, authorities are looking into alternative birthing centers as many pregnant women are worried about giving birth in hospitals.  
 
UNICEF warns that although evidence suggests that pregnant mothers are not more affected by COVID-19 than others, countries need to ensure they still have access to antenatal, delivery and postnatal services. Likewise, sick newborns need emergency services as they are at high risk of death. New families require support to start breastfeeding, and to get medicines, vaccines and nutrition to keep their babies healthy.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns died every year, or 1 every 11 seconds, mostly of preventable causes. UNICEF calls for immediate investment in health workers with the right training, who are equipped with the right medicines to ensure every mother and newborn is cared for by a safe pair of hands to prevent and treat complications during pregnancy, delivery and birth.
 
This is a particularly poignant Mother’s Day, as many families have been forced apart during the coronavirus pandemic. We can help save lives by making sure that every pregnant mother receives the support she needs to give birth safely in the months to come