As COVID-19 has rapidly spread to more than 120 countries, including Cambodia, several groups of individuals have expressed concern for their personal wellbeing. Among them are the elderly and persons with pre-existing medical conditions, who have been identified by the World Health Organization to be at a significantly higher risk during the pandemic. For pregnant women and expecting fathers, however, their worries have stretched beyond themselves to the safety of their unborn children.
Sun Vutha and his wife are expecting the arrival of their firstborn in late April. However, their excitement as first-time parents has been overshadowed by anxiety due to the ongoing health crisis.
Speaking to Khmer Times, soon-to-be-father Mr Vutha said it is regretful to welcome his firstborn daughter in such conditions.
“My wife’s health is vulnerable during this period. I worry both her and our baby will be infected. We have not prepared for this situation,” he said.
A recent study conducted by Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan Universityin late January said nine pregnant women were found to be infected with the coronavirus. All patients were in their third trimester and delivered via caesarean section. As of February 4, none of the patients developed severe pneumonia or died from the virus. In addition, there was no noted signs of infection in the newborns.
Similarly, a report released by UK-based Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said there is no data suggesting an increased risk of miscarriage or early pregnancy loss due to COVID-19. An analysis of case reports from early pregnancy studies with SARS in 2004 did not demonstrate a relationship between infection and increased risk of miscarriage; neither was there evidence of virus in breast milk as the virus is widely spread through respiratory droplets and surfaces. However, it stated due to pregnancy reasons, women may have coincidental symptoms with COVID-19 thus leading to confusion.
However, a February report by Xinhua news agency stated a baby in the hard-hit city of Wuhan tested positive for COVID-19 only 30 hours after birth. Health experts said the virus must have been transmitted from mother to child, as the mother was also diagnosed with the disease before giving birth.
The Kingdom last week, a four-month-old baby was confirmed to be COVID-19 positive shortly after the baby’s father, a French national, was diagnosed.
Dr Anna Roslyakova, an obstetrics and gynaecology specialist and chief resident at Women-Baby’s Centre ANNA, said: “Currently, we do not know if pregnant women are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. However, during pregnancy, the human body undergoes immunologic and physiologic changes which could make them more susceptible to viral infections.”
“Therefore, it is crucial for a mother and those around her to practise good hygiene. They could do this by washing their hands regularly with soap and alcohol-based sanitizers. They should also avoid touching their faces with unwashed hands, disinfect their homes and observe social distancing.”
Dr Mengly Quach, in a recent interview with Khmer Times, said: “Every country is facing difficulties processing the impacts of the pandemic. To expectant mothers, I suggest labour induction instead of unexpected labour so they could prepare for it ahead of time, just like in the US. The mothers should also maintain proper hygiene and keep a healthy diet. In cases of uncertainty, they should seek medical advice from an obstetrician or go to the hospital.”
At present, coronavirus cases have surpassed 400,000 worldwide. WHO director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press conference on Monday described the tremendous toll as “heartbreaking”.
Health Ministry’s spokeswoman Or Vandine during a press conference last week urged the public to practise self-quarantine, saying the measure “is necessary to prevent the further spread of the virus”.
Asked about health regulations during pregnancy and labour, Ms Vandine said studies are being conducted regarding the possibility of mother-to-child transmission but failed to indicate whether specific medical care have been drawn up for the soon-to-be mothers and their newborns.
A statement from the Health Ministry said the four-month-old infant, confined at the National Pediatric Hospital, is gradually recovering. The National Pediatric Hospital and Kantha Bopha Hospital were designated by the Health Ministry as official treatment sites for virus-infected children.
Meanwhile, as uncertainties regarding health and safety abound in the Kingdom, all Mr Vutha can do is ask friends and relatives to limit their visits to ensure the wellbeing of his wife and daughter.
“I hope people will be more mindful and use sanitisers. Self-isolate and wear protective masks,” he said. Additional Reporting by