KARACHI        -       Health experts at a virtual media conference stressed that the need for quality maternity care services for women and their newborns with respect and dignity even during disaster times as it is would ensure uphold their right to dignity and respect.

The event was organized jointly by the NCMNH, Society for Obstetrics and Gynaecology (SOGP) and Forum for Safe Motherhood here yesterday.

In her remarks, Vice President of National Committee for Maternal and Newborn Health (NCMNH), Dr Azra Ahsan, apprehended that the Covid-19 may lead to 31 percent increase in infant and maternal mortality in Pakistan in 12 months, if health services remain halted.

She suggested that corrective measures must be taken to ensure that women and newborn continue to receive vital life-saving interventions and that their right to dignity and respect is upheld especially during childbirth and postpartum. 

Dr. Razia Korejo, President, SOGP, emphasized that the Sindh province has taken the highest toll of COVID-19 cases as compared to other provinces. Due to COVID-19 response and lockdown, mother and child health services have suffered badly, and this is likely to affect the gains of the past decades in reducing maternal and infant mortality rate of the province.

She said that policy actions and steps are required for continuity of mother, newborn, child health and family planning services with respect and dignity even in emergency situations.

Dr. Sadia Ahsan Pal from NCMNH particularly talked about Respectful Maternity Care (RMC). She said that unfortunately, in Pakistan, there are several practices that characterize maternity care services delivery which fall outside the realm of RMC. Most of these fall in the category of abandonment and denial of care, followed by non-dignified care.

The key drivers of these practices appear to be lack of accountability in the system, gaps in the trainings of health care providers and high patients load vis-à-vis facilities. On the demand side, lack of awareness of rights of women coupled with hopelessness with respect to result of any efforts of raising voice, fear of denial of care in case of complaining and lack of any effective grievance redress mechanisms are some of the main reasons responsible for this sorry state of affairs.

At the end, Dr. Azra Ahsan highlighted a number of policy initiatives taken up by the Sindh government including Reproductive Health (RH) Act. She stressed the need for a concerted campaign on Respectful Maternity Care (RMC) in Pakistan which targets specific gaps in the policies and programs of maternity services.