Pregnant pause: Afghan women urged to delay motherhood due to virus crisis

Afghan health officials are urging women to delay plans to become pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak or until a vaccine is available to treat the deadly disease. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 11 July 2020

Pregnant pause: Afghan women urged to delay motherhood due to virus crisis

  • Couples are being advised to space their next pregnancy
  • Pregnant women are five times more likely than other women to be hospitalized in intensive care units

KABUL: Afghan health officials are urging women to delay plans to become pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak or until a vaccine is available to treat the deadly disease.
Akmal Samsor, a Ministry of Public Health official, told Arab News on Saturday that couples are being advised to space their next pregnancy because pregnant women are five times more likely than other women to be hospitalized in intensive care units.
The move follows a public awareness campaign launched by the ministry on July 1, advising couples “about the use of family planning methods to avoid pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to ministry spokesman Masooma Jafari.
In one of the videos posted on the ministry’s social media page, Dr. Homaira Ayoubia talks to couples about the “gravity” of the COVID-19 crisis, warning that the dangers involved are “much greater for pregnant women than nonpregnant women.”
Ayoubia said: “Bring a necessary gap for the next round of pregnancy so that you and your child become immune.” 
The warning was issued as the country remains in lockdown with 34,366 infections and almost 1,000 deaths recorded as of Saturday. Women make up 22 percent of the total fatalities.
Almost 1 million children are born in Afghanistan every year, adding to pressures faced by the health-care system in the war-torn country, which has an estimated population of 33 million.
With almost 3 million people dying in the almost four decades of war, many Afghans prefer to have more than one child.
Afghanistan’s health facilities are considered to be extremely poor, with official data showing that more than $300 million is spent in medical tourism by Afghans seeking treatment abroad, mostly in India, every year.
The coronavirus outbreak has added to the pressures faced by the health-care system and the government, which has come under sharp criticism for its mismanagement of COVID-19 funds.
Since the outbreak and subsequent lockdown in March, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said that an estimated 450 million women, from across the world, were either using contraceptives or avoiding visiting health facilities due to a fear of contracting the virus.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as social distancing and other strategies to reduce transmission, is anticipated to affect the ability of these women to continue using contraception,” the UNFPA said in its findings published in April.
“Clinical staff occupied with the COVID-19 response may not have time to provide services, or may lack personal protective equipment to provide services safely. Health facilities in many places are closing or limiting services,” it added.
Afghan doctors say the ministry’s directive is a step in the right direction.
“Access to services for pregnant women is a concern during the pandemic. An increase in the number of births while access to services is limited could increase maternal and newborn mortalities,” Homa Jalil, a gynaecologist at a government run-hospital, told Arab News.
Others suggest the government needs to do more to safeguard public health.
“There is a high risk factor for pregnancy in Afghanistan, and serious preventive steps are needed to reduce the risk,” Mohammed Nawrooz Haqmal, an Afghan health expert based in the UK, said.
He doubted many will follow the advice of the ministry to delay pregnancy since instructions on the lockdown had been widely ignored in recent months.
Ministry spokesperson Masooma Jafari voiced the same concern.
“We cannot be certain that people will follow the advice. However, we shouldn’t ignore the effect of awareness programs on people. The ministry will do its best to advise people on the consequences of pregnancy during the crisis and provide services to pregnant women,” she said.


Philippine president to make UN General Assembly debut

Updated 22 September 2020

Philippine president to make UN General Assembly debut

  • Duterte is one of the speakers on the first day of the high-level general debate, which ends on Sept. 26

MANILA: For the first time since he became president four years ago, the Philippines’ tough-talking leader Rodrigo Duterte will take part in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Tuesday.

The meeting will be virtual due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“This will be the president’s first time to address the UN General Assembly,” Robert Borje, chief of presidential protocol, told a press briefing on Monday, saying that this year’s meeting was of historic significance as it marked the UN’s 75th anniversary.

Duterte is one of the speakers on the first day of the high-level general debate, which ends on Sept. 26.

He is expected to talk about the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, peace and security, human rights, and geopolitical developments in Asia-Pacific, as well as other issues.

Duterte’s participation in the event is significant, mainly because he had threatened to pull the Philippines out of the UN in the early days of his presidency after facing criticism over his bloody war on drugs. He later backtracked, saying that he was “only joking.”

The theme for this year’s UNGA session is: “The future we want, the United Nations we need: Reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism — confronting COVID-19 through effective multilateral action.”

Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozker, who is president of the 75th UNGA, will preside over the meeting. Brazil is the first speaker, followed by the US, Turkey, China, Chile, South Africa, Cuba, the Russian Federation, Jordan, South Korea, Qatar, Philippines, Iran and France.

Borje was asked what had made Duterte decide to take part. He replied that the president’s participation had always been considered since the beginning of his term.

“But of course this year takes on special significance because it’s the 75th anniversary. But more than just that, the milestone landmark … It’s the intensity and the urgency needed to address global issues. The president recognizes that the Philippines cannot do it alone, and the United Nations is the world’s biggest platform where one country can articulate a country’s principled position on many items and many issues. And this is why he decided to join the UN General Assembly high-level debate this month.”

The world can expect to hear the president articulate the country’s positions on a range of issues — including his controversial war on drugs. 

“Yes,” said Borje. “That will be part of the president’s speech. He will address issues on human rights and justice.”

Duterte is also expected to raise the issue of the Philippines’ claims in the West Philippine Sea as his speech will also touch on peace and security, including terrorism.

The Philippines was one of the founding members of the UN, signing the UN Declaration in 1942.