KARACHI: “Women and their newborns need quality maternity care services with respect and dignity even when disaster strikes” said Dr. Azra Ahsan, Vice President of National Committee for Maternal and Newborn Health (NCMNH) in a Media conference organized jointly by NCMNH, Society for Obstetrics and Gynecology (SOGP) and Forum for Safe Motherhood.
She further apprised that Covid-19 may lead to 31% increase in infant and maternal mortality in Pakistan, in 12 months, if health services remain halted, according to a recently published article in Lancet. Hence measures must be taken to ensure that women and newborn continue to receive vital life-saving interventions and that their right to dignity and respect is upheld, even in times of crisis. Since it is during these disasters that women in pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period and newborn are particularly vulnerable.
Dr Razia Korejo, President, SOGP further emphasized that “Sindh province has taken the highest toll of COVID-19 cases as compared to other provinces. Due to COVID-19 response and lockdown, mother and child health services have suffered badly, and this is likely to affect the gains of the past decades in reducing maternal and infant mortality rate of the province. Therefore policy actions and steps are required for continuity of mother, newborn, child health and family planning services with respect and dignity even in emergency situations”.
Dr Haleema Yasmeen, JPMC/SOGP highlighted that the picture emerging before us both at the national level and even internationally, is one where resources and service providers are being reallocated to COVID 19 response which has led to severely compromised reproductive, maternity, and new-born services. Things such as unavailability of emergency transfers to facilities, mandatory separation of mother and baby, and the increasing reliance on preponement through medically unnecessary C-sections, inductions and augmentation of labor, have further aggravated the situation. It is essential that the country’s decision makers realize that women and their newborn need quality and respectful maternity care services even when disaster strikes.
Dr. Sadia Ahsan Pal, NCMNH/SOGP particularly talked about Respectful Maternity Care (RMC). She said that unfortunately, in Pakistan, there are several practices that characterize maternity care services delivery which fall outside the realm of RMC. Most of these fall in the category of abandonment and denial of care, followed by non-dignified care including verbal abuse and non-consented and non-confidential care.
The key drivers of these practices appear to be lack of accountability in the system, gaps in the trainings of health care providers and high client load vis-à-vis facilities. On the demand side, lack of awareness of rights of women coupled with hopelessness with respect to result of any efforts of raising voice, fear of denial of care in case of complaining and lack of any effective grievance redress mechanisms are some of the main reasons responsible for this sorry state of affairs.
At the end, Dr. Azra Ahsan highlighted a number of policy initiatives taken up by Government of Sindh which include Reproductive Health (RH) Act, recently passed from Provincial Assembly in which RH and family Planning Rights of women are being safeguarded.
She stressed on the need of a concerted campaign on Respectful Maternity Care (RMC) in Pakistan which targets specific gaps in the policies and programs of maternity services. She further added that all stakeholders in Sindh including SOGP and NCMNH are committed to improving access, availability and quality of maternal and childcare services in remote, less developed regions of Sindh. NCMNH and SOGP are committed to providing hand-holding and technical assistance to facilities in order to enable them to successfully implement standards and adopt Respectful Maternity Care guidelines.