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Grappling with the COVID-19 challenge while ensuring safe delivery

The latest report by the Federal Ministry of Health indicates that Ethiopia’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 are now more than 80. Midwives are among the frontline health workforce grappling with the challenges of this pandemic in performing their live saving work.

Midwife Dawit Mequanint has been working as a midwife for the past three years and is currently serving in the maternity clinic at the Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital, the biggest tertiary hospital in Ethiopia.  

He and his colleagues are devotedly providing compassionate and respectful care to pregnant women and their new-born despite the many administrative challenges associated with the practice. “For a generation and country to continue someone has to ensure that mothers and their infants are safe; that someone is a midwife,” says Dawit.  

Such challenges as the shortage of eye goggles, aprons, face masks and hand sanitizers have all along been troubling Dawit and his colleagues in the effort at ensuring safe delivery, exposing them to viral infections. But these challenges are paling in the face the danger posed by the current coronavirus pandemic.   

“Midwives cannot maintain physical distance with a laboring mother like in other wards making them too prone to acquiring infection with the virus,” Dawit expresses his concern. He says that this has compounded the challenge they have been facing by the shortage of protective equipment.

UNFPA is providing technical guidance and coordinating with partners to distribute emergency reproductive health kits and PPE to health workers, and to supply dignity kits containing essential hygiene supplies to communities.

These efforts are part of a 6-month pandemic response plan to address the needs of the most vulnerable women and girls, including those who are pregnant and breastfeeding. The plan also prioritizes the protection of Ethiopia’s health workforce, the continuity of reproductive health care and supplies, and addresses the increase in women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence.

The Ethiopian Midwives Association, with funding from UNFPA and support from regional health bureaus, is raising awareness about how to prevent COVID-19 infection. Information is being disseminated in different regional languages in the country.

“I will not succumb to short-lived challenges and give up,” says Dawit indicating that he is trying his best to update himself with information on the pandemic to provide care to mothers and their new-born and keep them safe.  He is also teaching pregnant women on social distancing and sanitizing techniques.

Dawit feels that there is a slight decrease in the number of mothers referred to his institution lately for delivery and postnatal care due to fear of contracting the virus.  

“Not enough is being done to train frontline health care worker like us despite our efforts at containing the spread of the virus,” Dawit remarks in dismay.    

“The government should avail personal protective equipment for coronavirus for us to be able to discharge our duties properly,” says Dawit underlining the importance of testing every pregnant woman seeking antenatal, delivery and postnatal care services.