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Midwives & Nurses Deserve To Be A Priority In COVID-19 Response

“Government, agencies and other development partners must prioritise the safety of midwives in COVID-19 response,” urged UNFPA Acting Head of Office Ms Margaret Thwala-Tembe.

Thwala-Tembe said this in an interview with Eswatini Broadcasting and Information Services (EBIS) radio on the International Day of the Midwife, on Tuesday 5th of May 2020.

The inaugural event, held under the theme; Midwives with women; Celebrate, demonstrate, mobilize, unite, was met with tough conditions in light of the current global COVID-19 pandemic which had led to, among other things, the banning of public social gatherings exceeding 20 people. As a result, those willing to hold commemoration days relied on both traditional and social media platforms for reaching public with messages on the day.

The Eswatini country office joined the world in appreciating the amazing work done by midwives in ensuring safe pregnancies and births, especially in this time of COVID-19.

“Midwives risk their own lives to save those of mothers and babies. We urge our government and partners to assist midwives with protective gear to ensure their safety from COVID-19.” The Acting Head of Office said.

As they say, no-one knows better where the shoe pinches than he who wears it, Margaret Thwala-Tembe is a midwife by profession and has a vivid picture of the challenges midwives go through in the delivery room/ labour ward as well as the RMNCAH platform. The praise she heaped on the midwives’ commitment to helping women is evident.

“We thank the midwives and nurses as they remain committed to ensuring safe pregnancies and deliveries despite the risk they face. Women still give birth and need quality health services even during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Thwala-Tembe said.

Lobesutfu Nkambule, a Midwife at Pigg’s Peak Government Hospital also shares the same sentiments on the negative effects of COVID-19 on midwifery, a profession she associates with compassion and love for clients.

COMPASION: Midwife Lobesuthu Nkambule is one of the thousands of midwifes celebrated in Eswatini for their dedication towards ensuringsafe health of women and their babies despite the COVID-19 crisis​​.

“Midwives feel the impact of COVID-19. The time you spend with your client cannot be shortened without compromising the quality of your work and there is no way you can ask a woman in labour to go back home when you running short of equipment.”

Nkambule went on to share about the need for educating family members on avoiding crowding in maternity wards.

“It’s impossible to social distance in the labour room. The risk increases as relatives crowd the delivery room even without taking proper precautions like wearing a mask.”

Such incidents make personal protective equipment a high demand in the maternity ward.

“Having enough personal protective gear can make our work easy. It can also help us continue deliver quality service to mothers and their babies without fear of getting the virus,” said the midwife. 

In Eswatini, one significant birth during the COVID-19 era was experienced in March, where a woman who had recently delivered twins, tested positive of the corona virus. Midwives did a commendable job as the little ones were delivered safely and free of the virus.

The need for appreciating midwives and all other health care workers is significant in this time of COVID-19. The year 2020 is a period for flaunting midwives and nurses for their excellent job in saving lives. In a statement published on the day, UNFPA’s Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem mentioned that women continue to demand services from midwives and nurses despite the covid-19 pandemic.

Midwives are the backbone of maternal health systems. This crisis is an opportunity for all of us to do more to support midwives’ efforts to uphold the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all women, everywhere.

As UNFPA; the United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency, aims at achieving zero maternal deaths by 2030, this goal is dependent on Midwives’ excellence in ensuring planned pregnancies and safe births. Although the State of the World Population Report of 2019 reports a notable decrease in maternal deaths, in sub Saharan Africa, the number is still high with 261 deaths per 100 000 live births.

Nkambule also shared a setback related to this pandemic in terms of proper delivery of babies.

“We’ve seen a number of cases where a mother would deliver at home or on her way to the facility. We not sure whether they it’s lack of transport or a way of distancing themselves from facilities in fear of the virus.  Also, we are seeing a number of South African women who use the informal crossing and come to delivery in our facility.”

In a prior statement, the Minister of Health Senator Lizzie Nkosi alluded to the global shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a disturbance to COVID-19 response.

Nkosi said, “We’ve had a constant challenge in terms of protective equipment for healthcare workers. The market is failing to deliver equipment on time and therefore, we are struggling with protecting midwives and nurses. We are concerned that they should stay safe as they keep the nation healthy and safe,”

In Eswatini, the impact of this PPE shortage is evident as the number of clinicians testing positive of COVID-19 keeps rising, currently at 33. mostly from the Lubombo region; where the country’s COVID-19 facility is located.