Malawi has become a country where hospitals are so run-down that women are expected to bring their own razor blades for cutting umbilical cords. The deepening poverty coupled with the COVID-19 this year further jeopardized women’s lives.
According to officials in Malawi as a result of the pandemic, far fewer pregnant women in Malawi received the care they required. Many such women opted for traditional birth attendants, who provide emotional support and administer herbal treatments. But birth attendants remain prohibited by the government from delivering babies due to a lack of formal training.
Additionally, many families can’t afford clinic visits or transportation, and remain worried about contracting the coronavirus in hospitals. But their decisions threaten to undo all the gains Malawi has made over the years. The nation has strived to combat its poor record of maternal deaths for several years now.
Impacts of the pandemic
Malawi is a largely rural silver of a country with 18 million people. From this population, Malawian women face a 1-in-29 lifetime risk of death related to pregnancy or birth. The country currently has 439 such deaths per 100,000 live births, down from 984 per 100,000 in 2004. Nonetheless, Malawi has the third-highest rate in Southern Africa. The current results reveal how the pandemic has impacted women in Africa, most acutely in the least developed countries.
Due to the pandemic hospitals in Southern Africa suffered staffing shortages when nurses needed to treat coronavirus patients. This in turn led to some lack of experienced personnel for births. But the pandemic did not only affect the availability of manpower, it also exerted much pressure on the entire health system. Sectors like those involved in stock out of certain medicines, basic medical supply, and equipment almost shut down. This had a huge impact on the quality of health service provided.
The Ndirande Health Center in Malawi, northeast of the nation’s commercial capital of Blantyre saw a decline of pregnant women patients when the pandemic hit. According to a clinic nursing officer the numbers fell from 100 patients before the pandemic to 15 to 20. The nursing officer added that even the women who came during the pandemic for personal care were afraid to deliver at the clinic. Most of these women preferred delivering at home as coronavirus cases surged across Southern Africa.
Why women refuse to deliver in health facilities
Malawi’s government had only given out about 213,000 AstraZeneca vaccination doses. About 20,000 expired doses issued by COVAX, the United Nations-backed initiative to ship vaccines to disadvantaged countries, were destroyed by officials. According to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1% of the population in Africa has received one dose.
Some nurses and midwives believe that pregnant women refuse to deliver in hospitals because they fear they will secretly receive vaccines. Some of the pregnant women feel health workers will give them the COVID-19 vaccine instead of oxytocin. But medical workers in Malawi have assured that they understand the higher risks of contracting coronavirus. To prevent the spread of the disease the workers make sure that all midwives are screened and tested. This has ensured that those with signs and symptoms stop work and receive the necessary medical treatment.