The coronavirus pandemic has affected the delivery of health services vital to the well-being of women; including family planning services and sexual and reproductive health services, Kenyan health officials say.
The Director-General of Health at the Ministry of Health, Dr Patrick Amoth, says the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has disrupted critical medical and public health services.
Dr Amoth said public health officials are in the process of carrying out surveys to determine the health-seeking behaviour of the population, especially women, who have kept off the health facilities since March 13, 2020, when the first case of the COVID-19 was confirmed in Kenya.
The impact of the pandemic has been felt worldwide. In Kenya, mothers checking into the delivery wards to receive the services of skilled birth attendants were recently dealt a heavy blow when 34 midwives at the Nairobi Pumwani Hospital were taken into quarantine after getting exposed to the virus.
Dr Amoth said the quarantine of the health workers was a standard health procedure to curb the further spread of the virus.
“In case we find an infection occurred in any area, we carry out contract tracing and quarantine. The guidelines are clear and they apply across the board, whether an infection occurs at a Police station, a prison, State House and even health facilities,” said Dr Amoth.
Infections from the virus have been reported in most major facilities. The health ministry officials confirmed the infection of nurses and other healthcare workers at Pumwani, which offers exclusive maternity services to women and newborn children amid mounting worries over the lack of safety rules to ensure proper protection of the healthcare workers.
The Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently expressed concern over the impact of the pandemic on the delivery of critical healthcare services, family planning, immunization of children and the fight against malaria and other diseases in Africa.
While praising countries in Africa for taking steps to improve the testing of coronavirus, Tedros, who served as Ethiopia’s health minister and later as foreign minister before landing the WHO post, said measures to protect health workers were still not adequate and remained one of the major flaws.
In response to infections such as the one which occurred at Pumwani Maternity Hospital, the health ministry initiated reviews of health procedures to make it mandatory for anybody admitted into hospital to undergo testing for the coronavirus after a 33-year-old patient died of the virus.
Campaigners for better livelihoods and women’s rights insist women and girls’ access to maternal healthcare improves their likelihood to stay in school and to contribute to community well-being.
A gender campaign network, Child.org, with operations in Kenya, decries continuous diversion of resources for maternal health projects to fight COVID-19 against the interests of women’s healthcare needs.
In a country where one in every 26 children die before their first birthday, Child.org says taking care of women’s educations needs remains paramount and plays a bigger role in reducing the death of babies.
The organisation has singled out the COVID-19 containment measures as having a particularly drastic effect on pregnant women in the rural areas, most of whom, depend on social gatherings to carry out table-banking and other social and financial support for each other in their community.
Low turnout for mass testing of the virus in most of Nairobi’s settlements feared to become potential hotspots demonstrated the climate of fear, which has aided the spread of the virus.
Pregnant women have cited the possibility of catching the virus in health facilities as the reason for keeping off hospitals and failing to seek services for mothers and children’s immunisation.
The pandemic has disrupted hospital services with women seeking a hospital delivery dropping by 50 percent while immunisation services have been affected to an extent that only one-third of the facilities remain functional as a result of the virus.
The African Union Commissioner for Social Services Amira El Fadil, warned recently the impact of the pandemic on women’s healthcare and public health in general, risks undermining development strides made in Africa over the last half a century.
To respond to the impact of the pandemic on other public health services, Kenya’s Health ministry is rapidly moving to digital services, including availing hotlines where people in need of social support may reach healthcare workers for counselling and other health services.
The impact of the pandemic on women ranks third in the order of the social and psychological issues requiring urgent attention by medical and public health workers.
“The response has been very good. People are making calls to our health-line,” said Dr Amoth when asked about the steps the authorities were taking to shield women from the rising cases gender-based violence as a result of the economic shutdown.
Amoth said reports reaching the authorities were majorly based on depression, anxiety and gender-based violence as well as increased cases of domestic violence affecting women.