The Coronavirus pandemic continues to engulf the world and the world, in its way, continues to carry on.
As the scientific and medical community battle this disease, hospitals that were once havens of safety also come under the umbrella of fear as a hotspot to catch this virus. While those who can avoid hospital visits and non-emergency procedures steer clear of these premises, a very vulnerable demographic, that of pregnant women, gets caught in the dilemma – to visit, or not to visit, that becomes the question.
Hospitals aim to offer the best care and treatment for expecting mothers and new-borns and have several practices in place to ensure their safety.
However, the spread of the virus makes it essential to become even more prudent to ramp up these practices during this time. Having general safety precautions upon entering the hospital, PPE kits for medical staff and sanitisation protocols along with social distancing are essential.
In a time like this, maternity hospitals have to not only be careful during labour and post-natal care but have to watch their ante-natal interactions with equal alertness. This becomes essential since pregnant women are at a higher risk of infections owing to the lower levels of immunity during this phase.
While data on COVID-19 and pregnancy is inadequate at the moment, experts are cautiously optimistic that fetal infections later in pregnancy are rare and that the coronavirus won’t wrap early fetal development. At the same time, there is data that shows that pregnancy makes women’s bodies more vulnerable to severe COVID. This is because of the uniquely adjusted immune systems of women in this phase. It is also partly because of the virus’s point of attack, the pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, which are already stressed during pregnancy.
Viral infections are more severe in pregnant women because the mother’s entire immune system works towards making sure there is no anti-fetal immune response and, hence, the immune response to the infection carries the potential to cause complications.
According to data published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) late in June out of “…91,412 women of reproductive age with coronavirus infections, the 8207 who were pregnant were 50% more likely to end up in intensive care units (ICUs) than their nonpregnant peers.”
Another research propounds that “pregnant or immediately postpartum women with COVID-19 were nearly six times as likely to land in ICUs as their nonpregnant, COVID-19–infected peers.”
While visiting the doctor’s office or the hospital for an antenatal check-up was exciting before, now most are filled with trepidation. It is understandable to have these concerns amid the pandemic as women don’t want to jeopardise their health or the health of the unborn baby.
However, putting off health checks during this time is also not wise. Pregnant women have to stay alert and safe and should be particularly more attentive towards their health and towards social distancing when outside of their homes.
Over the past few months, hospitals have fine-tuned their practices to make their spaces safer for patients. Medical care is essential and now has to be provided under carefully calibrated guidelines.
Hospitals have had to implement several protocol changes, including:
Hospitals also need to remember that labour can be a traumatic and stressful experience. Apart from ensuring the physical cleanliness of the space, the hospital staff has to be comforting and reassuring to reduce the emotional stress, ensure that they are treating the patient and the companion with utmost respect and empathy.
Along with all this, hospitals need to provide valuable counselling services before discharge to make the mother aware of all mental health triggers, as well as signs of infection and illness for herself and the new-born.
We are stuck in the grip of a pandemic that doesn’t seem to slow down especially in countries like India.
From the looks of it, the COVID-19 pandemic will be in our conversation for a long time.
It is imperative to make the necessary adjustments in the safety protocols and enable the shift in interactions between hospital staff and patients. It is time to make information exchange regarding patients and patient safety more seamless, targeted, contextual, and easier.
But what is evident is that the cleanliness meter will matter and continue to matter more than ever before, even when we have the pandemic behind us.