22 Jul 2021

Pregnant women among Covid-19 deaths in Fiji, babies saved

7:42 am on 22 July 2021

Two pregnant women are among Fiji's latest victims of Covid-19, health authorities said.

Doctors were able to save both women's newborns, the Health Ministry announced last night.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The ministry reported a record number of 21 deaths from the virus, along with 1091 new cases in the 24 hours to 8am on Wednesday. The deaths occurred between 14 July and 20 July.

Health Secretary Dr James Fong said while the outbreak was contained to the main island Viti Levu, primarily in the Lami-Suva-Nausori corridor, the ministry had seen increasing cases in the Western Division over the past week.

"Both pregnant women had been unwell with Covid-19 symptoms at home before presenting to our health facilities in severe respiratory distress.

"In both cases, our physicians made the decision to conduct emergency caesarean operations to rescue the newborns and assist with the care of the mothers.

"Sadly, despite the best efforts of their attending physicians, both mothers passed away. The fast actions of the obstetric team saved both babies.

"Maternal deaths at any time are a tragedy, and maternal deaths due to Covid-19 are a clear indication of the severity of this outbreak."

It was not known at which stage of pregnancy the mother's were at.

It was the sixth day out of the last seven that the daily figure of cases had topped 1000. The previous day, 1054 cases and 12 deaths between 13 July and 19 July were reported.

Dr Fong said given the rapidly evolving covid situation in Fiji, health teams were working around-the-clock to reprioritise and "focus our efforts to ensure we are protecting those most at risk of severe Covid-19 and dying".

"Our elderly, people with existing medical conditions, and pregnant women are most at risk.

"These shifts include changes to our testing services, home quarantine guidance, ensuring we are providing life-saving medical care to those people who are most at risk and establishing vaccination for pregnant women."

Fiji now has more than 15,000 active cases in isolation. It has recorded 146 deaths, 144 of them from the latest outbreak that began in April.

People lining up to get their Covid-19 vaccinations in Fiji.

People lining up to get their Covid-19 vaccinations in Fiji. Photo: Fiji govt

Call to return to normal antenatal care

An Australian health expert says Fijian women who have contracted Covid-19 should return to normal antenatal care as soon as they are no longer infectious.

Addressing a virtual discussion on Fiji, Professor Michelle Giles of Melbourne's Monash Univeristy said as a general rule a woman's standard antenatal care should not be compromised because she has Covid-19.

And she said this did not have to be done face to face.

Giles told the panel said she would encourage pregnant women not to stay away from hospitals or healthcare settings beyond the 14 days for fear of infecting other people because that was not likely to happen.

"What we actually know is that some people can shed the virus for a longer period of time, and it may not equate to them being infectious to others," Giles said.

"I think if you have other infection control measures in place and they've had their 14 days, I would not demand or require a negative test before they have their return for antenatal care."

Fiji's Health Ministry has begun administering about 150,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to pregnant women.

More data was showing that Moderna is safer for pregnant women and their unborn babies, Giles said said. Thousands of pregnant women in the US had received the Moderna vaccine and studies showed babies were not seen to be born pre-term or with abnormalities nor were their mothers more likely to experience side-effects.

"Women should get vaccinated as soon as they can, but I think if there are women who have particular concerns about one vaccine, I think we have a lot of accumulated safety data for the Moderna vaccine which is also very reassuring."

The head of Fiji's vaccination taskforce Dr Rachel Devi said from next Monday, pregnant women would be given the choice of the AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccine.

"We will not be cross-vaccinating anyone. If anyone out there has already got their first dose of AstraZeneca during their pregnancy, they will get their second dose of the AstraZeneca.

"For those who have not been, they will be offered the Moderna, but of course the choice is theirs," Devi said.

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