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Women in Papua New Guinea have been urged to delay falling pregnant for the next two years, because of the risks caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
While the nation has only recorded 10 cases of COVID-19, it’s already one of the most dangerous countries in the world to give birth and the fear surrounding the virus, paired with the outbreak itself, is making conditions worse, one of Papua New Guinea’s obstetric experts told ABC.
Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of PNG, Professor Glen Mola – who helps run part of the maternity ward at Port Moresby General Hospital – has advised women not to fall pregnant until 2022.
“Every day I see problems that have occurred because women have tried to access care when they’ve had problems and they haven’t been able to do so,” Prof Mola said.
Non-government organisation Care told ABC if there is an outbreak of coronavirus, Papua New Guinea could see a similar situation to Sierra Leone’s during the Ebola outbreak, when more women died from complications relating to pregnancy than from the virus itself.
“The epidemic made things even worse as health services were stretched and pregnant women avoided hospitals,” the organisation said.
While Port Moresby General Hospital is now set up to screen people with fevers or respiratory symptoms, Prof Mola said he’s concerned health services in other parts of the country are not “over the fear”.
“Of course, when we actually start to get cases of COVID-19 morbidity and perhaps mortality, will all this fear come back again? One has to be very concerned about that,” he said.
“It’s best not to plan a pregnancy this year or perhaps even next year, because we don’t know how the epidemic is going to run.”
Director of the not-for-profit family planning service Marie Stopes, David Ayres, said the “big fear” is, “in the midst of the pandemic, the health system simply doesn’t have the … capacity to deal with the mother who comes in with complications during pregnancy”.
While studies have revealed pregnant women with COVID-19 can pass the virus onto their babies, president of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), Dr Vijay Roach, said coronavirus would not harm unborn babies or drastically change the way a woman gives birth.
“There is no evidence of increased risk of miscarriage, of harm to the baby, of vertical transmission,” he said.
“There may be a slight increase in the risk of prematurity, but that could be because if a woman is unwell she may need to be delivered early.” .
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