Global rise in stillbirths attributed to Covid-19 pandemic

Cases of stillbirths have increased globally during the coronavirus pandemic with researchers attributing the worrying rise to staff shortages and a reluctance to visit ‘over burdened’ hospitals.

SCIENTIFIC journal, Nature, this week published an article in which researchers stressed the need for antenatal care, as emerging data linked disrupted pregnancy services to an increase in stillbirths since the beginning of the health crisis.

They revealed a ‘slew of studies’ from around the world showed a ‘disturbing trend’.

Researchers said that in some countries, pregnant women have received less care than they need because of lockdown restrictions and disruptions to health care.

As a result, complications that can lead to stillbirths were probably missed.

Jane Warland, a specialist in midwifery at the University of South Australia in Adelaide, said: “What we’ve done is cause an unintended spike in stillbirths while trying to protect [pregnant women] from Covid-19.”

The largest study to report a rise in the stillbirth rate, based on data from almost 22,000 women who gave birth in nine hospitals across Nepal, was published in The Lancet Global Health on August 10.

It found that stillbirths rose from 14 per 1,000 births before the country went into lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus in late March, to 21 per 1,000 births by the end of May — an increase of 50 per cent.

A study published in Jama Network demonstrated a similar trend during the pandemic in the UK, particularly at St George’s Hospital in London where cases reportedly quadrupled between February and June compared to the previous three months.

In conclusion, researchers said: “The study demonstrates an increase in the stillbirth rate during the pandemic. A direct consequence of SARS-CoV-2 infection is possible.

Although none of the stillbirths in the pandemic period were among women with COVID-19, surveillance studies in pregnant women reported that as much as 90 per cent of SARS-CoV-2–positive cases were asymptomatic.

“Alternatively, the increase in stillbirths may have resulted from indirect effects such as reluctance to go to the hospital when needed (for example with reduced fetal movements), fear of contracting infection, or not wanting to add to the National Health Service burden.”

It added: “Changes in obstetric services may have played a role secondary to staff shortages or reduced antenatal visits, ultrasound scans, and/or screening.

“Hypertension in pregnancy may have been underdiagnosed during the pandemic as women had fewer face-to-face antenatal visits. Other possible explanations include change in referral patterns.”

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Tara Rippin

Tara Rippin is a reporter for Spain’s largest English-speaking newspaper, Euro Weekly News, and is responsible for the Costa Blanca region.
She has been in journalism for more than 20 years, having worked for local newspapers in the Midlands, UK, before relocating to Spain in 1990.
Since arriving, the mother-of-one has made her home on the Costa Blanca, while spending 18 months at the EWN head office in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol.
She loves being part of a community that has a wonderful expat and Spanish mix, and strives to bring the latest and most relevant news to EWN’s loyal and valued readers.

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