Today, as we fight this unprecedented pandemic, COVID treatment has been prioritized, and women’s health has taken a backseat.
By Namita Thapar,
Far from waning, the pandemic brought millions of lives under its fold, plunging healthcare systems into a deep coma. Like all other crisis, the outbreak has affected women disproportionately. Historic anecdotes bear testimony to the fact that healthcare crisis have never been gender neutral and coronavirus is no exception. Today, as we fight this unprecedented pandemic, COVID treatment has been prioritized, and women’s health has taken a backseat.
Even before the pandemic, we had dismal statistics such as India ranking 155th out of 156 countries surveyed on women’s health as per a report published by World Economic Forum 2021. This plight has only deteriorated in many ways in the last on year.
In fact, experts like Dr. Nozer Sheriar, consulting Obstetrician and Gynaecologist with a longstanding commitment to the promotion of women’s health and rights, assert that sexual and reproductive health services for women, though listed as essential, were treated with benign neglect in the face of the increased burden on the health care system due to COVID-19. From these services, it was family planning and safe abortion services that were considered less important than maternal and new-born care services during the pandemic. The Federation of the Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) registry and our survey on ‘Understanding Obstetric care during Covid 19 pandemic’, (a pan-India survey where 93 Obstetrician and Gynaecologists shared their experience of past 14 months (May 2021) findings demonstrated that most women with COVID-19 during pregnancy had an uneventful course. Pre-term labour, miscarriage, termination, C section did not seem to increase in pregnant women with COVID-19. Whether the virus passes on to the new-born has not been established yet, though evidence shows an extremely low probability of this.
Zooming in on Concerns About Pregnant Women with COVID-19
As per leading gynaecologists most women will only need symptomatic care with simple medications such a paracetamol. What drugs can be used and cannot be used for pregnant women is fairly clear. . During these trying times, social distancing has made teleconsultation an effective and the safest medium for interaction between patients and doctors. It is imperative to monitor anaemia and hypertension in pregnant women and fewer routine antennal care visits could mean lost opportunities to diagnose them. As we battle a pandemic, the issues of postpartum depression, anxiety and paranoia may be exacerbated. Dr. Parikshit Tank, Joint Treasurer, FOGSI corroborates this point and agrees that all these factors lead to a delayed post-delivery recovery and could have long term impacts on women’s health.
Additionally, as clinic visits entail being exposed to the risk of contracting the virus, infertility treatments have been impacted. This has led to couples who have time sensitive concerns for fertility treatment like advanced reproductive age, diminished ovarian reserve or reducing sperm counts deferring their treatment
Salvaging the Situation: Measures to Prevent COVID-19 in Pregnant Women
At the centre of these concerns stands the efficacy and safety of vaccination during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is essential to vaccinate this group. Very recently vaccination has been approved for lactating women. However, it is essential to announce a policy to vaccinate pregnant women. Additionally, there are several myths around vaccinations that are completely unfounded such as vaccines cause infertility and changes in periods. There needs to be education and awareness campaigns around these myths to reduce the paranoia and to push the government to allow vaccination in pregnancy. This view is consistent with the position statement by FOGSI under the leadership of Dr. Alpesh Gandhi, President and Dr. Shantha Kumari, President Elect, advocating vaccination in this group.
The pandemic has certainly changed our lives in unpredictable and unprecedented ways. And non-Covid diseases and conditions have been impacted the most due to reduced clinic visits and acute shortage of medical staff and hospital infrastructure for both detection and treatment of non-Covid conditions including surgeries. It is critical to not lose sight and give attention to non-Covid patients as well. To ensure that India does not reel under the added burden of these problems in a post COVID-19 era, there is a dire need to continue educating healthcare experts and the masses about the importance of self-care and have a robust healthcare infrastructure in place.
(The author is Executive Director at Emcure Pharmaceuticals. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)