The pandemic has stress-tested the world’s most robust healthcare systems to quickly adapt and process large volumes of patients with varying underlying issues. A key and often ignored demographic acutely affected by the pandemic is that of women and children.
Dr Haifa Madi, public health advisor at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, Abu Dhabi, believes that if this problem is left unchecked, millions of women and children may be sidelined to suffer through health issues we’ve already tackled in recent times such as infant mortality. “The Arab world scores highly on the gender inequality index and we also have the highest number of displaced people in the world. This means that vulnerable groups are the easiest to overlook at times of crisis,” she said.
Speaking at the public health conference at Arab Health on Tuesday, Dr Madi explained how the diversion of resources to address Covid-19 has impacted antenatal care and all services for women and children. Due to lockdown, 80 million children under the age of 1 may miss essential vaccinations. “The lockdown also limited the accessibility of women and children to healthcare, leading to an indirect and direct increase in maternal deaths and child mortality.”
Gender based violence has also increased during the pandemic, she noted. 1 in 3 women worldwide are subjected to sexual or physical violence at least once in their lives. In Arab countries, this figure rises to 37%. Forced coexistence, community closure and economic stress has led to increased tensions at home, which have negatively affected female safety.
The problem is not well documented, because of low reporting levels due to the stigma facing women who do want to come forward. “This is a social, economic and health issue that needs more studying,” she added.
“Nobody knows when this will really end. This virus has tested the ability and preparedness of even the strongest health systems in the world. If we want to see real progress, we need to address inequalities at every level.”