Sweden and UNFPA join forces to protect mothers and babies from COVID-19 in Sudan

13 May 2020

UNFPA-trained midwives are helping prevent COVID-19 infection and to deliver babies in Sudan. © UNFPA Sudan/Soufian Abdul-Mouty

KHARTOUM, Sudan – Hundreds of Sudanese doctors and midwives are training to deliver lifesaving sexual and reproductive health services amid the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to flexible funding from the Government of Sweden and UNFPA.

The new assistance is vital for safe births and other maternal health programmes to continue despite the country's overwhelmed health system.

“Babies didn’t choose to be born in a global pandemic, and mothers didn’t choose to give birth in a lockdown,” said Massimo Diana, UNFPA Representative in Sudan.

There are at least 1,661 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sudan, but the real number of infections is expected to be much higher given limited testing capacity. An economic crisis and years of foreign sanctions mean that the country's health system is at risk of collapse – and pregnant women and girls are now extremely vulnerable.

Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, 311 deaths per 100,00 live births, according to UNFPA's latest State of World Population report. Almost one quarter of births are not attended by skilled personnel.

Israa’ Altayyeb is a midwife who is still doing her lifesaving job despite the pandemic. Based in Omdurman, she has so far trained more than a hundred midwives on how to prevent COVID-19 infection and deliver babies in these difficult circumstances.

“We showed them how to deal with pregnant women and COVID-19 during breastfeeding, pregnancy and delivery,” Ms. Altayyeb said. The programme, she explained, has trained medical staff “on how to protect themselves and the people around [them].”

COVID-19 is expected to have an outsized impact on pregnant women and recent mothers. While some are more likely to go to the doctor, others may delay doing so for fear of getting infected. In any case, Sudan's weak health system may not be able to offer all women the maternal health services they need.

The UNFPA programme funded by Sweden also helps the Sudanese government fight COVID-19 by working with young activists to issue health guidance and spread best practices. 

“Sudan’s youth are a formidable force for change. They can help defeat COVID-19,” Diana said. 

Sweden is one of UNFPA's top donors and a major contributor to the Maternal Health Thematic Fund, which trains midwives, performs obstetric fistula repair surgeries and delivers other maternal health support to countries with high maternal death rates. The country is also a linchpin of UNFPA’s efforts to promote and strengthen midwifery around the world.

"To invest in pregnant mothers and children is a down-payment on the future of Sudan and very important in times of COVID-19," said Hans Henric Lundqvist, Swedish Ambassador in Sudan. "Sweden´s support is underpinned by our unique tradition and experience of midwifery.

– Justin Lynch

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