As many as 877 newborn babies and 61 mothers have died as pregnant women refused to get admitted to hospitals for institutional delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic due to fears of contracting the disease, the Meghalaya government has informed the NHRC.
The Meghalaya government has recently submitted the action taken report to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) after the latter registered a case over the high number of maternal and newborn deaths in the state during the pandemic.
"The causes of the newborn deaths had been looked into and it was found that the fatalities were due to the lack of medical attention and care because pregnant women refused to get themselves admitted to the health institutions due to fear and stigma of contracting COVID-19 and also the refusal to test for COVID-19," the report said.
During the time the deaths had taken place, it was mandatory to segregate COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, hence testing was done to avoid the spread of the disease, especially in hospital wards, it said.
Even though women "abstained" from visiting health facilities, ANMs and ASHAs were regularly monitoring their health through home visits and counselling, urging them to visit hospitals during delivery, the report said.
Taking cognisance of the high number of deaths, the state government had launched a "rescue mission" and health teams were constituted to identify all pregnant women and register them on a mobile application to prevent such incidents, the state government said.
The state administration said that besides the pandemic, "the underlying and often unaddressed socio-economic and gender dimensions" added to the high number of maternal and child deaths in Meghalaya.
High-risk pregnant women were tracked and none of them are allowed to deliver at home and asked to get admitted to hospitals at least two weeks before their due dates, the report said.
The "rescue mission" was launched alongside COVID-19 management. Districts were asked to ensure 100 per cent ANC (Ante Natal Care) registration for early treatment and prevention of maternal mortality, and several strategies were adopted, it added.