The current nationwide lockdown has made several women’s life difficult. Access to healthcare facilities to pregnant women and women seeking an abortion has become a huge issue across the country including the national capital. In the wake of a petition seeking an urgent hearing in this regard, Delhi High Court has directed the central and the state government of Delhi to ensure women from COVID-19 hotspots, needing maternity care, be given immediate attention during the lockdown.

The hearing took place through video conferencing in which the bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad ordered the Delhi government to allow pregnant women to also use the helpline facilities put in place for senior citizens.

Also read: What It’s Like To Be Pregnant In The Coronavirus Pandemic

What Was The Need To File The Petition?

The petition was filed by SAMA, a Resource Group for Women and Health and it stated, “Pregnant women who are approaching their delivery date in order to enable timely access to safe and comprehensive medical facilities for childbirth and neonatal care. Despite being recognised and categorised as essential services, many pregnant women are being denied access and are experiencing hurdles to access and avail comprehensive medical facilities, due to the lockdown imposed to control the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The petition sought direction for proper coordination between the concerned departments of the Centre and Delhi government so that a nodal officer is appointed in every COVID-19 hotspot, whose contact number is made public and a dedicated helpline is set up for pregnant women seeking essential health services, which includes arranging transportation to and from the hospital and securing movement passes.

Sama Resource Group for Women and Health is a Delhi based organization with expertise on issues of public health, women’s health and reproductive justice, including access to reproductive healthcare for women.

Before this order, the Ministry of Women and Child Ministry had also released advisories stating initiatives taken by them at the grass-root level to ensure healthcare is provided to women in the hinterlands of the country.

The petition reported a case wherein a 25-year-old pregnant woman, Navniti* was repeatedly denied treatment for her child’s delivery, both at Safdarjung Hospital, Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital (LNJP) and four other public and private hospitals in Delhi and was forced to wait nearly 48 hours. She was finally admitted to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, bleeding and in a “precarious” health condition.

While Navniti wasn’t a COVID-19 positive patient, the petition notes that she was still denied essential medical services and was forced to run from pillar to post for the two days just prior to her child’s delivery.

Speaking to SheThePeople about the issue, Deepa from SAMA says, “We got several requests from public and especially in rural areas where the most focus is on COVID-19 related patients and healthcare for pregnant women or abortion-related services were not being made available to women. Secondly, because of the lockdown, transport has also become a huge issue for women going to the hospital. Even enough ambulances aren’t there. In Delhi where we work from, we found several issues especially last week when we found out about Navniti who couldn’t access hospital just because she belonged from one of South Delhi’s hotspot red zones for coronavirus.”

Deepa says that their orgnisation has first-hand information from Delhi that there is an acute shortage of ambulances. “They refer the patient to another hospital but they don’t provide transportation to patients to commute to the other hospital. Most people who access public healthcare system are from economically and socially weaker sections of the society. It is very inappropriate to expect them to have their personal vehicles etc.,” she addss.

What Does The Delhi High Court Say?

“Union of India and Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi shall work in tandem to make sure that no barriers are faced by pregnant ladies and their family members residing in hot spots during the lockdown, said the order passed on April 22 but was uploaded on the court’s website on April 24.

WCD Ministry Guidelines But Lack of Implementation On The Ground

Before this order, the Ministry of Women and Child Ministry had also released advisories stating initiatives taken by them at the grass-root level to ensure healthcare is provided to women in the hinterlands of the country. In one of our recent interviews, Rekha Sharma, NCW Chairperson noted, “The WCD ministry has taken up initiatives at the grass-root level, where ASHA and Anganwadi workers, Self-Help-Groups, One-Stop-Centre volunteers, Panchayat volunteers are actively spreading awareness on coronavirus going to the remotest parts of the country, across states, reaching out at the slums and to each family, to advise and follow health advisories. They are also rendering help and support for women and child wellbeing during this pandemic crisis.”

While Navniti wasn’t a COVID-19 positive patient, the petition notes that she was still denied essential medical services and was forced to run from pillar to post for the two days just prior to her child’s delivery.

 

Also Read: NCW Chief Rekha Sharma On Its Initiatives To Address Domestic Violence

Vrinda Grover who represented SAMA in the case highlighted that auxiliary nursing midwives (ANM) and Asha workers must ensure that pregnant women in the last trimester should be contacted to ascertain their status. She argued that despite extensive guidelines laid down by the Centre, services on the ground are not readily available.

*-Name Changed

Image Credit : DailyMail

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