Health worker perspectives on access to antenatal care in rural plains Nepal during the COVID-19 pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic affected access to antenatal care in low and middle-income countries where anaemia in pregnancy is prevalent. We analyse how health workers provided antenatal care and the factors affecting access to antenatal care during the COVID-19 pandemic in Kapilvastu district in the western plains of Nepal. We used qualitative and quantitative methodologies, conducting eight semi-structured interviews with health workers who provided antenatal care during the pandemic, and a questionnaire containing open and closed questions with 52 female community health volunteers. Antenatal care was severely disrupted during the pandemic. Health workers had to find ways to provide care with insufficient personal protective equipment and guidance whilst facing extreme levels of stigmatisation which prevented them from providing outreach services. Pregnant women were fearful or unable to visit health institutions during the pandemic because of COVID-19 control measures. Pre-pandemic and during the pandemic health workers tried to contact pregnant and postpartum women and families over the phone, but this was challenging because of limited access to phones, and required pregnant women to make at least one antenatal care visit to give their phone number. The pandemic prevented new pregnancies from being registered, and therefore the possibilities to provide services over the phone for these pregnancies were limited. To reach the most marginalised during a pandemic or other health emergency, health volunteers and households need to exchange phone numbers, enabling proactive monitoring and care-seeking. Strengthening procurement and coordination between the municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government is needed to ensure the adequacy of antenatal supplies, such as iron folic acid tablets, in health emergencies. Community engagement is important to ensure women and families are aware of the need to access antenatal care and iron folic acid, and to address stigmatisation of health workers.

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