Dodoma. When the Covid-19 outbreak was confirmed in Tanzania on March 16, many pregnant women across the country feared going for antenatal clinics.
Experts say the impact of missing out on clinic routines was significant—and requires urgent interventions to evert likely complications during childbirth.
It is advisable that women begin attending clinics immediately after discovering that they are pregnant but when the pandemic hit, most pregnant women who had already started their clinic routines, decided to stop.
Ms Grace Nicholaus, a resident of Kondoa, in Dodoma Region, says she was afraid to meet people physically after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Arusha. She says, “Nurses were afraid to get in contact with pregnant mothers and vice versa.”
Because of the fear she could not attend usual clinics for three months consecutively, thus I failed to get some vaccines that ought to be administered to pregnant women.
But when the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children encouraged women to stop fearing and attend the clinics, Ms Aziza Hamis, who was six months pregnant, says she resumed.
“We were told that one of the ways to protect ourselves from contracting the disease is avoiding overcrowding, but it was impossible at hospital because when you go to attend clinics you meet a lot of people, so I decided not to go there until the government announces otherwise,’’ she says.
The Kondoa District Medical Officer, Dr Francis Saghati says before the Covid-19 outbreak was confirmed in the country, between 90 and 110 pregnant women were visiting at least one medical facility for antenatal clinics.
But the number went down significantly during the pandemic, whereby those attending the clinics were between 70 and 80 per day.
“Majority of women who visited health centres were coming to attend clinic very late because of fearing to contract the disease.
Social distancing could help
Dr Saghati says one of the strategies his district was employing to bring the situation back to normal was to increase benches so that there is social distancing when women come to hospital to attend clinics, as well as reducing time for women to stay at medical facilities and increasing more water equipment where they can wash hands with soap.
“We have now decided to start providing numbers to women attending clinics so whoever is served, leaves our facilities immediately to give room for others to get medical attention, he says.
The Dodoma Regional Coordinator of Maternal and New born Health, Nice Moshi, says that in recent days, the number of women in clinics has remained low despite government interventions to calm the fears and announcing that coronavirus cases have gone down.
He recommends that it is high time the media and religious leaders began intensifying awareness campaigns so that the community gets back to normal.
Mpwapwa District Medical Officer, Dr Archard Rwezaura, says his district has intensified awareness campaigns in different areas of the district.
“Usually women visit centres in the morning, but in our district, we have given them different appointments from morning to evening,’’ he says.
How to stay safe
According to World Health Organization(WHO) guidelines, women can take care of themselves and their babies as follows:
Stay at home and avoid meeting outsiders. Wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rub. Prepare for delivery and make arrangements to reach hospital. Its safer to deliver in a hospital, even during the COVID-19 pandemic
Always be alert on pregnancy related warning signs. Continue visiting your doctor or midwife for regular check ups. Immediately contact the doctor in case of symptoms like pain in abdomen, bleeding, watery discharge and severe headache. In case of an emergency visit nearest hospital.
Wash hands before and after touching and feeding your baby. Wash clothes and sterilize all utensils & articles that come in contact with you or your baby.
Breastfeed within 1 hour of birth and continue. It protects your baby from infections. Keep your baby close to you. Practice skin-to-skin contact (Kangaroo care) for small or preterm babies.
Wear a medical mask while breastfeeding the baby. Wash your hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rub before feeding. Routine clean and disinfect surfaces around you. Keep at least 1 meter distance from others.