Maternity wards struggle during the Covid-19 surge

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Nearly seven months pregnant, Zhu Qi who lives with her husband and a 4-year-old daughter in Beijing’s Chaoyang District got Covid only days after the loosening of China’s pandemic prevention and control measures.

Her symptoms included high fever, sore throat, persistent cough and vomiting.

Throughout the internet, many more women during pregnancy who contracted the virus shared their experiences — some with more critical conditions.

Pregnant women like Zhu and the obstetricians in the country are among the first groups to be hit by the surge of positive cases. Despite having weathered the first shock, the maternity wards across the country are left with no choice to “press the pause button” but to face this protracted battle.

A complex situation

Reporters at the China Philanthropist magazine have searched various social media platforms and found that since mid-December, many pregnant women have taken to the internet to recount their experiences of testing positive during pregnancy. Some have experienced the dangerous situation of high fever near labor.

“I was having a fever when the baby was due, and for her health, I was forced into a cesarean section,” a woman in Guangdong Province wrote on Weibo. “Fortunately, my baby did not get infected.”

Another woman from Jiangsu Province also had a C-section because of Covid. “My high fever had caused cloudy amniotic fluid, and my baby was sent to the neonatal unit for treatment right after she was born,” she wrote. Now, with the whole family infected, she doesn’t know who can take care of her newborn when she turns home.

Zheng Wencheng, an administrative staff at the Women’s Hospital, School of Medicine, Zhejiang University, told China Philanthropist that pregnant women as a group is more likely to be infected, and once infected, the symptoms tend to be more complicated.

Interviews by China Philanthropist with obstetricians and gynecologists in Beijing, Shandong, Henan and Zhejiang Provinces reveal that there is some disparity in the situation of patients in different regions and hospitals. For example, in large maternity hospitals and general hospitals with fever clinics, pregnant women have higher rates of infection and more cases with severe symptoms.

Shortage in blood banks

The sudden surge of the pandemic has also caused a sharp decrease in the number of blood donators, which has led to a significant blood supply disruption in hospitals around the country. For pregnant women on the obstetric table, a shortage of blood means that danger may come at any time.

The obstetrics department has to deal with multiple operations every day, and the clinical blood supply is under great pressure, Zheng said. “We have now relaxed some indication standards to use autologous blood transfusion technology as a major countermeasure to solve the problem.”

Xu Qing, director of obstetrics at a county maternity and child health hospital in Henan Province had also been notified of the shortage of blood banks. “Our blood preparers have told us that family members of the patients have to be mobilized to donate blood now because the blood supply is tight.”

Cities such as Guangzhou and Hangzhou have issued initiatives to encourage people to participate in blood donation.

Mounting pressure

Although the work conditions of obstetricians in different regions vary, when asked about the past month, all doctors said they had been under mounting pressure.

Having the majority of medical staff infected means a shortage of staff and more burden on those who kept working. Worse still, some doctors are facing wage arrears. By the time of the interview, Xu had not received her salary for November, not to mention that the cost of the pandemic prevention supplies was also deducted from her salary.

She hopes doctors will be better paid in the future and that after the surge of Covid cases, people will still remember the perseverance and dedication of doctors.