By Mary Hearty

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose challenges to the health system with some African countries facing their fourth, third or second wave.

The pandemic and the mitigation measures are further complicating an already struggling reproductive, maternal, child and adolescent health (RMCAH) service delivery in sub-Saharan Africa by disrupting livelihoods and services.

Brenda Mubita, Program Officer, Amref in Zambia stated in a research presentation dubbed: Assessing the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Response on Reproductive, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Service Provision in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia, during Amref Africa’s virtual conference on COVID-19 and its impact on key health issues in Africa.

The study which was done in November 2020 assessed the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the associated policy responses on the provision of, access to and utilization of RMCAH services and sought to document knowledge and perceptions of the health-related human rights.

They found out that utilization of RMCAH dropped due to fear of the COVID-19 infection, movement restrictions, transport challenges, difficulties in meeting the costs, and inadequate information, according to the respondents.

“In 2020, we realized that there was a tremendous drop of deliveries by skilled birth attendance in Ndola District, Zambia. For example, in October 2020, deliveries by skilled birth attendance that is, midwives or obstetricians dropped by 8% compared to the previous year,” the researcher highlighted.

She noted that the disruption threatens realization of rights related to the access to quality RMCAH services due to limited inclusivity of health workers in the development of laws and policies, mainly developed at the national level and limited dissemination.

“Some laws and policies which were set up due to the pandemic including lockdown measures did not include service providers, especially health workers on the ground. They were not contacted and dissemination of information was just done at the national level,” Mubita stated.

Also, the study indicated low provision of RMCAH services due to: discontinuation of outreach services and unavailability of drugs, vaccines and medicines, inadequate infrastructure, and burn of health workers.

“Some of the existing infrastructure was redirected for COVID-19 patients and by that time we did not have any vaccines. The healthcare providers were also overwhelmed as the number of the cases rose. Additionally, they did not have adequate information on how to respond to the patients,” she said.

Among the study’s recommendations was government to prioritize comprehensive support to health workers through provision of personal protective equipment (PPEs), psychological support, medicine and supplies, regular updates and accurate COVID-19 information via tailored messages.

Besides, the public health departments were advised to provide community based services including outreach programs and use of CHWs while observing COVID-19 prevention measures.

In addition, she said that there is need for the COVID-19 task force to include health providers and the community in the development and dissemination of health related pandemic control measures.