Help medical care system to protect pregnant women, babies amid virus

This situation must not be repeated, in which pregnant women infected with the novel coronavirus cannot receive adequate treatment and their newborn babies die. It is important to prepare the medical care system to protect the lives of mothers and children.

Last month in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, a pregnant woman in her 30s who was infected with the coronavirus gave birth prematurely at her home and her newborn baby died. She complained of abdominal pain and bleeding. It was reported that although a public health center and her family obstetrician looked for hospitals to accept her, she could not be hospitalized as nine medical institutions refused to admit her.

In Mie Prefecture, a pregnant woman in her 20s was refused an examination at an obstetrics and gynecology department because she had not undergone a PCR test after close contact with an infected person — her husband. Subsequently, she had a miscarriage.

Pregnant women are said to be at higher risk of becoming seriously ill or giving birth prematurely when they are infected with the coronavirus, especially during the later stages of pregnancy. It is important that when pregnant women are found to have been infected with the coronavirus, public health centers immediately contact their family obstetricians and gynecologists, and family doctors keep track of their condition.

In many cases at small obstetrics and gynecology clinics, the building structure may make it difficult to separate infected pregnant women from other pregnant women, so the staff are not able to directly examine infected pregnant women. Therefore, the Saitama Obstetrics and Gynecology Association has started online consultations for infected pregnant women.

In Kyoto Prefecture, obstetricians and gynecologists work with internists to visit the homes of infected pregnant women to provide medical examinations. They also borrow ambulances from university hospitals and give consultations to such patients while parked in their clinics’ lots. It is hoped that obstetricians and gynecologists around the country will use their wisdom to care for infected pregnant women.

The central government must make efforts to urgently expand and improve hospital bed capacity to deal with sudden changes, such as signs of premature birth, in addition to COVID-19 treatment. It is hoped that infected pregnant women can be hospitalized as soon as possible when their family doctors notice something unusual in their condition.

Each prefecture should arrange a wide-area medical transport system with neighboring municipalities in case they cannot find a medical institution to which infected pregnant women can be transferred. To do this, they need to understand the situations for accepting infected pregnant women at medical institutions in their own areas.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have analyzed data on about 2,500 pregnant women who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, the CDC changed its view on whether pregnant women should be vaccinated from leaving it to the judgment of individuals to recommending it, saying that the CDC did not find an increased risk of miscarriage.

In Japan as well, it is vital to make sure that pregnant women can get vaccinated. It is also important to facilitate vaccinations for family members living together in order to prevent pregnant women from being infected.

One survey says that the number of pregnant women suspected of suffering from depression amid the coronavirus pandemic is three times higher than the previous average number. People around pregnant women should pay attention to their anxiety and support their physical and mental health.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 21, 2021.