UNICEF has estimated that there will be approximately 5 million births amidst the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan. Reports suggest that as much as 80 percent of resources in hospitals will be occupied to meet the needs of coronavirus patients. Amongst other things, this presents a serious challenge for ensuring antenatal care for pregnant women and neonatal care after birth. Pakistan does not do very well on this front even during regular times. According to WHO and UNICEF, maternal mortality ratio of Pakistan stands around 340/100,000 live births.

The numbers are even higher in rural areas across provinces; the situation is statistically twice as bad in certain areas of Balochistan and former FATA regions now part of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. The infant mortality rate (IMR) is a discouraging 57.2 out of 1,000 live births. There are concerns that the pandemic threatens to exacerbate the situation, as already limited medical resources are tied up with virus cases. However, there is an encouraging development where an infected woman has successfully delivered a baby in Karachi, who has thankfully tested negative and appears to be in good health. This and other cases from around the world prove that even coronavirus-positive pregnant women, with good care and guidance, can give birth to healthy infants.

While campaigns have been launched in the past to spread awareness regarding family planning, Pakistan has been unable to resolve the multiple factors behind the issues of overpopulation as well as high MMR and IMR. Unfortunately, many women continue to be deprived of reproductive rights and autonomy. Reports reveal that multiple pregnancies without sufficient gaps, undernourished mothers who are often too young, poor hygiene and cultural factors are responsible for the dire state of affairs. For now, the government should assist medical professionals in providing necessary care in pregnancy cases. In the near future though, it must make a concerted effort to address the larger problem.