mfitzgerald3_LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHAAFP via Getty Images_coronaviruschildbirthmother Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP via Getty Images

The Preventable Trauma of COVID Childbirth

A new global investigation has documented, in at least 45 countries, “shocking” and “unnecessary” breaches of laws and World Health Organization guidelines intended to protect women and babies during the pandemic. But just as the COVID-19 crisis can impede progress on protecting women's rights and health, it can also spur change.

LONDON – “The baby is dead. We can’t assist you here.” By the time she heard these devastating words, the pregnant Yasmelis Casanova had endured a long and painful journey, passing through multiple COVID-19 checkpoints, to the hospital in Caracas, Venezuela. She bled for hours without treatment. When doctors at a second hospital finally operated on her, they removed her ovaries without her prior consent. Then, she spent 20 days there almost entirely alone; due to COVID-19 restrictions, visits were banned.

Venezuela’s health-care infrastructure was crumbling well before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 crisis has pushed it to the point of collapse. Many women experiencing obstetric emergencies now struggle to reach hospitals, let alone gain access to adequate care. Yet such failures can be seen far beyond Venezuela, in rich and poor countries alike.

Last month openDemocracy released the results of a global investigation into the treatment of women in childbirth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Across 45 countries – from Canada to Cameroon, from the United Kingdom to Ecuador – we found what doctors and lawyers describe as “shocking” and “unnecessary” breaches of laws and World Health Organization guidelines intended to protect women and babies during the pandemic.

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