*Image credit: counterview.org

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown caused disruptions in all aspects of our lives. As our movements became restricted, there were challenges in availing many of the facilities that we were accustomed to, including care for pregnant women, mothers and children.

However, services such as antenatal and postnatal checkups, routine immunization, village health and nutrition days (VHNDs), among others, were initially disrupted as a result of the pandemic.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a gradual return of these services across Jharkhand. Subsequent phases of the lockdown eased movement for essential services and institutions at the village, block and district level began to function and offer these services, at least in a partial manner. 

While the COVID-19 response has taken our full attention at this point of time, it is more important than ever to ensure that pregnant women, mothers and young children are able to access the essential services that ensure their health and protect them against preventable diseases.

The pandemic has also resulted in a large influx of returning migrants, among whom are pregnant women and children. Essential health services to migrant populations such as antenatal and Post-natal care, institutional deliveries, routine immunization among others are critical to safe pregnancies, deliveries and preventing disease outbreaks.

 Over time, Jharkhand has seen proactive steps from the government in issuing instructions to all districts to identify pregnant women and children in quarantine centers to ensure they get the care they need. Districts across the state are preparing line lists of pregnant women, children and other beneficiaries under national programmes and linking them with hospitals or outreach (VHND) services.

During the lockdown, routine immunization coverage in the state had reduced in the months of March and April. However, the month of May saw the resumption of immunization both in facilities as well as in the community.

The state of Jharkhand has also started regular health services such as outpatient and inpatient departments, facility-based maternal and newborn care, VHNDs, institutional deliveries, family planning services as well as services offered under all national programmes. It is only outreach services that are temporarily halted in containment zones. 

Jharkhand is tracking and reviewing the provision of services at the block level and issuing necessary instructions to cover those people who have either been left out or have dropped out. The state had planned to conduct a headcount survey for children and pregnant women to identify so that services are provided to them immediately.

I request all of you who are reading this message to avail the services like institutional delivery, special newborn care unit for sick newborns, malnutrition treatment centers for malnourished children and other services provided by Government hospitals.  

At the same time, I also urge you to take necessary precautions while going to hospitals or outreach sessions, such as wearing masks, observing respiratory etiquette, handwashing and avoiding touching surfaces unnecessarily. This will keep you safe while ensuring the safety of our frontline workers, doctors and nurses so that they continue to provide services without any hesitation.

The enthusiasm and commitment of field workers has played a key role in these essential services bouncing back in the wake of the pandemic. Most ASHAs and auxiliary nurse-midwives (ANMs) in the state ensured that their lists of pregnant women and children due for immunization were ready. 

VHNDs have also resumed across the state. As with all other aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, our health workers have led from the front.

It is natural for parents and their families to worry about the risk of being infected by COVID-19, especially on visiting a health facility. It is important to note that health workers are following social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene both to protect themselves and the people they deliver services to. 

It is also important to remember that maternal and child health services are critical towards identifying risks early as well as providing protection from avoidable illness and mortality.

The COVID-19 pandemic entered a world where we are already fighting against a number of health challenges. While we are doing our best to stay safe from this new disease, let us remember to look after the other health needs of our loved ones as well.

( Dr Prashant Dash is UNICEF Chief Field Officer, Jharkhand)

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