Health workers in Ethiopia
continue to provide essential maternal and child health care during COVID-19
This was a special day for 21-year-old Rahima Mohammed. She had just given birth to her first child at a health center in Lideta, Addis Ababa. However, due COVID-19, her joy was clouded by worries and conflicting emotions.
Rahima always wanted to deliver her baby in a health facility but not everyone shared the same sentiment.
“My neighbors told me not to go to the health center. They told me that I might get infected with the coronavirus. They said I should give birth at home to be safe,” says Rahima as she cradles her newborn.
Under normal circumstances, Rahima would been surrounded by family and friends to celebrate the new arrival. But COVID-19 has made this impossible; to prevent its spread, access to the clinic by non-patients has been restricted.
“I am sad that my family are not able to visit me to see my first born,” Rahima says.
Ethiopia reported its first COVID-19 case on 16th March. Since then, the number of cases has steadily risen to nearly 900 by the end of May.
“When the first case was reported, people were afraid to come to the health center. We saw a decrease in the number of patients,” says Sister Kalkidan Gizaw, the nurse who helped Rahima deliver her baby. “There was a perception that the risk of contracting the coronavirus was higher at health facilities.”
To address these fears, the health center put in place measures such as hand washing stands, temperature screening at the entrance, and physical distancing in waiting rooms.
“We informed expectant mothers about all these safety measures before, during and after their pregnancy. Health extension workers were also critical in following them up through home visits and phone calls,” says Sister Kalkidan.
Door-to-door home visits are a key part of health extension workers’ routine. They check on pregnant women, educate people about COVID-19 precautions, and promote routine medical check-ups and immunizations. During COVID-19, health extension workers are also conducting community-based temperature checks.
Ethiopia is among countries that have made notable progress in reducing maternal and child deaths, according to a 2019 situation analysis of children and women. But COVID-19 threatens to unravel much of this progress. Data from the Ministry of Health for March shows that there was a nine percent decrease in the number of children treated for pneumonia compared with the previous eight-month average, suggesting a reluctance by parents to bring their children for treatment.
And due to the combined effects of the coronavirus, a desert locust infestation, disease outbreaks, and floods, UNICEF is estimating the number of children needing treatment for malnutrition to rise from 1.3 million to about 1.6 million.
“Although parents remain fearful of coming to the health center, we are trying to implement all the necessary prevention measures by wearing face masks, limiting the number of people in waiting areas, and maintaining physical distancing, hopefully building the confidence of parents to continue with their children’s scheduled immunizations,” says Sister Kalkidan.
UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health in ensuring that health and nutrition services for women, children and vulnerable communities continue to be provided during COVID-19. The support includes personal protective equipment for health workers, hygiene supplies for infection control, vaccines, injections, oral rehydration salts, antibiotics, and Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Food for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition.