Amid the coronavirus pandemic, medical services around the world are increasingly under pressure. Hospitals have become hotspots, and the health sector has focused its attention on fighting the outbreak. In countries such as Paraguay, this has mostly broken health systems that were already straining to deliver adequate medical services to all of its citizens. As a result, progress made fighting conditions such as pre-eclampsia risks being abandoned in the process, which would likely result in rising maternal and infant mortality rates.
This is a pressing concern for pregnant women all around Paraguay as the lack of services can mean the difference between life and death. My reporting has shown me that this is especially the case for the isolated rural communities in the periphery as these women would often undertake dangerous journeys to receive medical attention. Unfortunately, the coronavirus crisis has caused these pregnant women to be even more distanced from medical services as they will go to great extents to avoid exposing themselves and their children to the pandemic. It will be a significant loss to these communities if these women are forgotten.
If my experiences in Paraguay have taught me anything, it is that ensuring women’s access to healthcare is of the utmost importance for continuous and equitable development. The women that I interviewed played essential roles in their communities, and the risks of pregnancy complications greatly impacted these roles. The fears of pre-eclampsia were overbearing for some, as many of these women had lost friends or family to the condition. The weight of these fears alone creates a greater gender inequality by placing a tremendous amount of psychological pressure on these women, which serves as an obstacle that inhibits their ability to contribute fully to society.
If a cohesive response to the pandemic is expected in Paraguay, these women will have a crucial role to play in bringing their communities together. So it is important that their medical needs do not remain forgotten. Even if the pandemic requires the urgent attention of medical staff, the leaders within these rural communities can step in to help. They can increase outreach efforts to women in their community who are pregnant and ensure that they are being given access to medical consultation through the new hotlines.
Protecting the lives of pregnant women and their children from preventable diseases like pre-eclampsia is important to maximising each woman’s impact on their country’s economic, political and social spheres. Without the contribution of these women, it will be harder for Paraguay to secure its place among middle income countries and continue down the path to development. Ultimately, access to basic maternal healthcare services is fundamental to helping women and girls achieve gender equality.