With the coronavirus pandemic bringing everything to a standstill, the focus of the government has been primarily on tackling the healthcare crisis by reducing the number of cases. Amid this chaos, other healthcare services have taken a serious hit across the country, with likely long-term effects. Activists say that maternal healthcare and child services have taken a backseat, leading to the unfolding of a parallel health emergency.
The experiences of women dealing with the different challenges of a lockdown is being documented by Sama Resource Group for Women and Health. Rajani, a community-level activist, told the organisation about a pregnant woman from Ranchi who lost her child after being refused by two hospitals in Jharkhand’s capital. “In the course of this journey, she lost a lot of blood. I came to know that she finally reached the RIMS hospital at 3:30 pm, but she lost her child during child birth,” Rajani said.
With no public transport and a majority of people not owning private vehicles, pregnant women in the need of emergency services are being left with no choice but to appeal for distress calls and seek help, often losing out on crucial time needed to reach hospitals.
Maternal health not a priority
The account highlights the weakening of health care response with respect to women, raising serious concerns about ensuring safe, timely and quality maternal health care at the community level.
A major issue is the discontinuation of antenatal care (ANC care), barriers in accessing institutional facilities for delivery care. The suspension of transport facilities and non-availability of ambulances are posing risks to the health and lives of pregnant women.
Speaking to NewsClick, Sarojini N. of Sama said that the decision to close down OPDs and a lack of access to healthcare services will lead to “morbidities and mortalities, it will trigger another wave of a health crisis. The concerns of women who need of maternal healthcare are not limited to services but also transportation facilities. So many people have been reaching out to say that access to ambulances is extremely limited; reproductive healthcare is being sidelined,” she added.
She added that meticulous planning is needed to respond to the problem “and the government is faced with dealing with the immediate needs of the crisis but who is doing the ANC care? Who is doing the door to door work? where are the referrals happening? These are big questions that need answering as a parallel health disaster is in the making.”
The distress is particularly higher among marginalised women, especially when additional restrictions are imposed on their lives without forethought. Activists demand that the response of the state to the coronavirus must include antenatal care (ANC), delivery, postnatal care (PNC), access to contraception and comprehensive abortion care.
Care for children
In addition to maternal care, the healthcare meted out to children has also been hugely affected with no immunisation drives, reduced distribution of the ICDS services and lack of support for children of those working in essential services and those from marginalised communities.
According to the UN, children are at risk of becoming the biggest victims of the coronavirus crisis. Speaking to NewsClick, Sumitra Mishra, the Executive Director of Mobile Creches, which has been providing relief to children, said that malnutrition levels are likely to surge as children do not have access to cooked food. “If families are going hungry then children are going hungry because services have shut down and the focus is now primarily on taking care of the pandemic. Immunisation has also suffered enormously. Children are not being given their vaccines. The general response is that the delay in giving the vaccine will not be fatal for children. However, since immunisation is not being tracked, when the lockdown will be lifted, it will be extremely difficult to trace due to the migration.”
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