The day Sarmila Shrestha felt her baby was not moving, Nepal had just gone into lockdown. She was nine months pregnant and when she visited the hospital they told her she had to take a test for COVID-19 before she could be admitted.
“We were so confused about what to do next,” she said. When she was finally permitted to enter, the overwhelmed staff did not pay attention to her concerns and there were constant delays. Shrestha went into labour but her baby was stillborn.
“I was heartbroken,” she said. “My baby could have been alive if the service was done on time.”
Stillbirth – which is the loss of a baby before or during delivery, after 24 weeks of pregnancy – has been on the rise around the world during the coronavirus pandemic.
In London, one hospital noticed that stillbirths almost quadrupled during the city’s spring lockdown. According to the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom, the national average rate for stillbirths is 3.8 per thousand. St George’s Hospital typically has a rate of almost half that, but between February and June, it increased from 2.38 to 9.31 per thousand, a recent study showed. In July alone, the rate was 14.2 per thousand, a sixfold increase from normal.