Africa Defense Forum
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South Africa Updates COVID-19 Guidelines for New Mothers, Babies


Pregnant women are not more susceptible to catching COVID-19 than anyone else, but they are at greater risk of developing severe symptoms, especially in the last 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In South Africa, that has translated into an additional 16 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to maternal deaths of women who did not have coronavirus, according to the South African Medical Research Council. In response, South Africa’s National Department of Health is taking action. It issued updated guidelines for the health care of mothers, newborn babies and children in March.

“Although the vast majority of COVID-19 infected individuals who present for medical care are adults, it is important to make sure that the needs of pregnant women and children are not forgotten and that adequate provision is made to care for COVID-19 exposed and infected newborn babies and children while maintaining optimal routine care of children,” Dr. Sandile Buthelezi, director general of the National Department of Health wrote.

The guidelines include:

* Screening and testing for COVID-19 at delivery sites, identifying patients with severe symptoms, and managing care from the onset of labor to birth.

* Making sure there is a maternity team in a designated section of the maternity unit to care for women who are or may be infected — unless the woman’s condition is so severe that she must be treated in an intensive care unit.

* Having a reliable, ample oxygen supply at maternity units.

Taking Precautions

It is rare for babies in the womb to contract COVID-19, and those who do tend to recover quickly.

Still, it is important that those caring for newborns take precautionary steps to prevent spreading the disease, such as frequent handwashing and wearing a mask. Mothers with COVID-19 can still hold their babies and breastfeed, as the benefits of contact outweigh the risks of coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

If a pregnant woman has, or is suspected of having COVID-19, the WHO recommends that health care workers take precautions to prevent the virus’s spread, such as maintaining proper hand hygiene and wearing personal protective equipment.

One question frequently asked by expectant mothers is whether they must deliver by caesarian section if they have COVID-19. The answer is no, as the procedure should be performed only when medically appropriate, according to the WHO.

Child-raising Challenges

The pandemic has been particularly hard on new mothers. One mother, who did not have COVID, gave birth in the pandemic’s early days. She said the government hospital in Johannesburg where she delivered was so full that she was discharged the day her son was born.

The woman, who went by the name Clementine, told UNICEF that she delivered a healthy baby boy, although her delivery was difficult. Her husband could not be with her due to strict lockdown measures. She said it was hard to breathe during labor because she had to wear a mask.

She had to quarantine for two weeks after being discharged.

“I so wished the world would go back to normal on that day. I still had my fears, what if I caught COVID?” she told UNICEF. “What about my poor baby and husband? What was I going to do?”

Because of the lockdown measures, she essentially learned how to be a parent alone. She said she learned valuable lessons throughout the pandemic, such as being less selfish and saving money.

“I do like saving for emergencies, but during COVID our family lived off our savings, as there was no income coming in from myself and my husband,” she told UNICEF. “I don’t even want to think what would have happened if we had no savings. Now, before I spend, I save. I just want to make sure that when something like this happens again, I have something to bail me out.”

Clementine works as a beauty therapist. She started her own mobile beauty salon when the company she worked for struggled during the pandemic.

“My fears of COVID have lessened,” she told UNICEF. “I’m just doing what I can, raising my little boy in a world where I don’t know what the future holds.”

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