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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: Genet Azmach is a senior midwife and head of the Delivery Case Team at the Kotebe Health Center where she has been serving for the past 8 years. She has been providing lifesaving maternal health services assisting pregnant women and giving sexual and reproductive health services against all odds.

“There have been times that no cut-gut was available to suture tear and beds to admit laboring pregnant women; mothers were also convulsing due to absence of anticonvulsants and other essential medications,” says Genet.   

She recalls a very sad event she encountered on duty. “I will never forget a bleeding pregnant woman whom we referred to a hospital for advanced care who died there while waiting for specialists to attend to her,” Genet says ruefully.
While recognizing the daunting challenge posed by the current COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Genet is of the firm view that the challenge is not insurmountable.

Ms. Genet says she and her colleagues are trying to tackle the COVID-19 challenge taking the necessary precautions. “Our challenge emanates from the fact that it is difficult to attend to pregnant women from distance owing to the nature of labor and delivery,” she indicates.

The Kotebe Health Center is ill equipped to provide delivery services for women diagnosed with coronavirus according to Ms. Genet. On the other hand the client flow has increased significantly at her health center after the COVID-19 outbreak partly due to the fact that a nearby hospital has been converted to coronavirus treatment center.  

Ms. Genet goes on to express concern on the availability of Personal Protective Equipment.  “What we fear is that health care providers might surrender to the coronavirus infection before we serve our community, specifically pregnant women, due to shortage of protective equipment just like what we see in other countries,” she says.

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.

Ms. Genet is striving to keep up with updates about the COVID-19 pandemic to help her perform her duty better. “But we need specific orientation with respect to coronavirus and pregnancy,” she says.

Ms. Genet is of a strong view that every woman is entitled to lifesaving sexual and reproductive health services even during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.