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COVID-19 linked to increase in infant and maternal deaths

Monday, 8th February 2021

Evidence suggests that there has been an increase in maternal and perinatal mortality rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown. During this time, healthcare services in metropolitan areas have been inundated by the number of COVID-19 infections taking away the emergency care for mothers in labour. The loss of jobs, and people returning home (to rural areas) has resulted in  hospitals being overrun and reaching capacity at an accelerated rate.

The pandemic has hindered access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, and the use of contraception and Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) has seen a steady decline. Births at healthcare facilities may have increased, but the antenatal care remains variable and area dependant.


In light of these findings, South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and University of Pretoria (UP) at Kalafong Provincial Tertiary Hospital and the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) are amplifying awareness regarding the importance of prenatal care.


Seven out of ten preterm deaths are stillbirths in South Africa. This figure can be reduced in this care through the use of the Umbiflow device that detects abnormal placental blood flow thereby detecting fetal growth restriction. The use of this device has resulted in a 47% reduction in stillbirths in nine sites in our country.


In normal times, eight out of 100 infants are born prematurely and on average 11 000 premature babies die each year as a result of preventable infections and complications. The neonatal outcome can be improved significantly for growth-restricted and premature infants by providing them with breastmilk. The SABR supplies donated breastmilk to premature babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) nationwide.