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India

Pregnant women, babies die in Christian-majority Indian state

Essential medical services unavailable in Meghalaya following the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Nirendra Dev, New Delhi

Updated: September 10, 2020 09:50 AM GMT
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Pregnant women, babies die in Christian-majority Indian state

At least 877 newborn babies and 61 pregnant women, mostly Christians, died from April to July in Meghalaya state. (Photo: Unsplash)

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Hundreds of newborn babies and scores of pregnant women have died in a Christian-majority state in northeastern India as Covid-19 cases continue to increase.

At least 877 newborn babies and 61 pregnant women, mostly Christians, died from April to July in Meghalaya state as essential medical services were not available to them following the pandemic and lockdowns.

"Even the other day, one pregnant mother died and her baby was stillborn. Hospitals she approached for delivery could not admit her," said Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh, a Catholic lawmaker in the state legislative assembly.

She said the pregnant woman was shunted from one place to the other and was asked to take a Covid-19 test as she came from a quarantine zone.

"Things are turning worse for women in Covid-19 containment zones. The situation is becoming very critical," Lyngdoh told UCA News on Sept. 8.

She said the state government, particularly its health department, "should pull up their sleeves and take firm steps."

Lyngdoh, also the chairperson of the Assembly Committee for Empowerment of Women, said government action "is the first thing".

The state needs to prioritize women's safety, particularly for pregnant women, said Lyngdoh, also an active member of All India Catholic Union.

Senior Health Department official Sampath Kumar told UCA News that the reason for the high death rate was not just the strain on medical facilities because of increasing Covid-19 cases.

"Lack of adequate birth spacing, teenage pregnancies and severe anemia among women" are also reasons for the high rate of maternal and infant deaths

More than 53 percent of pregnant women in Meghalaya are anemic, with the figure going up to nearly 60 percent for women aged 15-49 in rural areas.

Health officials also say non-acceptance of birth spacing measures such as using contraceptives also results in dangerous pregnancies.

They suspect Christian teachings against contraceptives and abortions have influenced many women to consider pregnancy a "blessing and God's gift" and not making "a mother's womb a graveyard" for the fetus.

Most Christians in Meghalaya come from ethnic groups that practice early marriages, directly contributing to teenage pregnancy. Village women mainly depend on untrained birth attendants, health officials said.

Some 75 percent of Meghalaya's some 3.6 million people are Christians. Dominant denominations are Presbyterian, Baptist and Catholic.

The state's government hospitals have only about 1,700 beds, but some 3,000 people have been infected by the novel coronavirus causing Covid-19.

Although 1,700 have recovered and only 17 have died from Covid-19 so far, cases are increasing with more than 20 people infected daily.

However, officials say the high rate of maternal and infant deaths should not be linked to strained medical facilities.

A data comparison shows the number of such deaths last year from April to July was "comparatively the same" as this year.

"There are infrastructural issues and an absence of adequate medical personnel. Perhaps more than 50 percent of pregnant women are anemic. The death of these innocent newborns and women is not accidental but equivalent to mass murder," said politician Sanjay Das.

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