Leaving no one behind during the COVID-19 pandemic: how about mothers and babies?

Seven researchers from LSHTM have contributed to a major online survey led by the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp to show the effects the COVID-19 pandemic is having on maternal and newborn health care worldwide. The findings from the first round show an alarming decline in the availability, use, and quality of services. This trend may undermine or reverse decades of progress in improving maternal and newborn health, especially in low and middle-income countries. Here we hear from the principle researcher, ITM’s Prof Lenka Beňová, and one of the co-authors, LSHTM's Prof Wendy Graham, on the implications of the findings and how we can use the survey moving forward.
Maternal and newborn health is being put at risk worldwide by COVID-19

A range of maternal and newborn health professionals worldwide, including midwives, obstetricians, and community health workers, were asked to questions about the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the provision of maternal and newborn health care by filling in an online survey. The first round of the survey was launched on 24 March in three languages (English, French and Arabic). The survey is currently available in 13 languages. To date, the researchers have received submissions from more than 1,500 health professionals in nearly 100 countries at various stages of the pandemic. 

The  findings from the first round of the survey have been shared in a pre-print paper, and are the focus of a Commentary by the LSHTM team coming out in BMJ Global Health. Read more about the significance of the survey and results with two of the researchers involved below. 

Prof Lenka Beňová - ITM

P​​​​​​​rof Lenka Beňová

Keeping in mind that maternal and child services are often severely disrupted during outbreaks, when the coronavirus disease was developing into a pandemic, we realised that we have to keep track of what exactly is happening across the many countries worldwide. The aim is to understand the impact on the provision and use of maternal and newborn health services, but we also want to understand how we can prevent and address such disruptions in the future, including by collecting examples of innovations and solutions developed locally.

The first findings tell us that most health care professionals have received information about COVID-19, but that they lack practical training and guidance on how to deal with pregnant women or newborns showing symptoms of COVID-19. The availability of care personnel has decreased dramatically and there is less support and follow-up for mothers during personal consultations.  Where possible, this is compensated by online or telephone communication tools. Healthcare professionals experience more stress and some women are afraid to come to health facilities for fear of getting infected there.

Prof Wendy Graham - LSHTM

Prof Wendy Graham

Although most countries are reporting the pandemic in terms of statistics, we know these are not always reliable and cannot capture the insights from those working on the frontline. The team at LSHTM have a thirty-year history of showing the magnitude, causes and ways to improve outcomes in mothers and newborns, using both quantitative and qualitative data. We are delighted to join ITM in the design of this innovative survey and in the reporting of the findings.

It is very sobering to hear about the hard-won gains in maternity and newborn care over several decades being challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is an urgent need to put the equivalent of a safety net around these precious and essential services, ensuring care remains accessible, appropriate, and good quality. We must not leave behind the needs of mothers, newborns and frontline health workers in the struggle against COVID-19.


Online survey:

Pre-print manuscript: Voices from the frontline: findings from a thematic analysis of a rapid online global survey of maternal and newborn health professionals facing the COVID-19 pandemic

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