The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it has developed guidance for health facilities and community activities on maintaining essential care and services for women, newborns, children and adolescents and safeguard them against infections.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the WHO, in his opening remarks at a media briefing, on Sunday, stated that because the pandemic had overwhelmed health systems in many places, women may have a heightened risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.
The WHO said it was worrying that adolescents and women in low-and-middle-income countries were already struggling to access health services and the situation could worsen with the acceleration of the pandemic.
The Director General said the indirect effects of COVID-19 on these groups may be greater than the number of deaths due to the virus itself.
“To this end, the WHO has developed guidance for health facilities and community activities on maintaining essential services for women, newborns, children and adolescent to ensure that they can use services with appropriate infection prevention and control measures and respectful maternal and newborn care,” he stated.
On breastfeeding Dr Ghebreyesus said the WHO had carefully investigated the risks of women transmitting COVID-19 to their babies during breastfeeding.
"Based on the available evidence, WHO’s advice is that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh any potential risks of transmission of COVID-19, mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be encouraged to initiate and continue breastfeeding and not be separated from their infants, unless the mother is too unwell," he said.
The world body, he said, had detailed information in its clinical guidance about how to breastfeed safely.
The body was also concerned about the impact of the pandemic on adolescents as it had observed that the closures of schools and university could also have a dramatic impact on the ability of adolescents to access preventive services.
“In some countries, more than one-third of adolescents with mental health conditions receive their mental health services exclusively at school, while millions of children who were fed through school meal programmes also had reduced access to food,” he noted.
Dr Ghebreyesus stated that “the limited opportunities for physical activity and increased use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs may have impacts on the long-term health of these young people”.
To address these challenges, it had developed guidelines on maintaining essential services, while there were many things people could do to take care of their own health, it advised.
These included staying active, eating a nutritious diet and limiting their alcohol intake.
He said access to treatment for people living with HIV, and medicines for other health conditions that people could self-manage, could reduce the burden on over-stretched health systems, while meeting the health needs and rights of individuals.
“Self-care interventions enable more people to obtain the health services they need during the pandemic, when and where they need them, it’s our collective responsibility to ensure these interventions are available and accessible to all people who need them”.