Healthcare News South Africa

Addressing maternal mental healthcare in Africa

Affecting around 20% of pregnant women in low and middle income countries, mental-health issues like depression and anxiety are common during pregnancy and the first year after birth, with consequences for both mothers and their infants.
Source: Pixabay

Africa’s health systems, and particularly mental-health infrastructure, may not be adequately serving women on the continent, who often experience intense suffering if left untreated.

“A period of heightened emotions, and often great joy, pregnancy also brings anxiety and uncertainty into women’s lives. It’s a tumultuous time during which roles and relationships shift.

“For many women on the continent, already burdened with poverty, gender-based violence, and with limited access to quality healthcare, concerns about how to cope with the physical changes and side-effects that accompany pregnancy and whether they will have enough support once their child is born fuel these anxieties,” says Cynthia Makarutse, content lead for the Africa Health 2022 Congress.

“Women who are breadwinners may worry about how to continue providing for their families, while others may wish to terminate their pregnancies yet find themselves unable to safely do so through the public healthcare system. The prospect of miscarriage is also a source of worry,” she explains.

Pregnancy can trigger or worsen mental-health conditions like anorexia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), drug or alcohol use, and panic attacks. Furthermore, women facing mental-health challenges may be stigmatised for it by their communities or even by their healthcare providers.

“The inadequacies of our health systems may be fuelling mental-health concerns among pregnant and birthing mothers,” Makarutse expands.

“Poor communication between healthcare workers and their patients; invasive methods; disregard for pain and personhood; medical neglect; obstetric violence and a disregard for privacy are among the pressing problems the sector must address to re-establish confidence and trust in Africa’s maternal healthcare systems.”

A platform for bettering medical obstetrics

Themed around Post-pandemic medical obstetrics - updates, consensus & controversies, the fourth medical obstetrics conference at this year’s Africa Health Exhibition on October 28 2022 promises a day of insightful discussion, with some of the continent’s leading authorities sharing their expertise on ways to narrow the critical gaps in our current obstetric and maternal healthcare paradigms.

The session on community obstetrics, moderated by Dr Coceka Mnyani, will see Dr. Lavinia Lumu, specialist psychiatrist at Akeso Crescent Clinic explore mental health disorders in pregnancy. Celebrated professor Sue Fawcus of UCT addresses the question, ‘Did the Covid pandemic undo the progress made in reducing maternal mortality in South Africa?’; and Dr Tamsyn Baillie Stanton discuss the role of the emergency physician in reducing maternal mortality.

The talks will be followed by an interactive debate, providing attendees the chance to engage with these renowned speakers.

“We need to build a resilient, compassionate healthcare system in which pregnant mothers are afforded the dignity and respect they deserve. Africa’s pregnant and birthing mothers must have access to high-quality care, and appropriate medication.

“We’re moving in the right direction, but it will likely take further concerted efforts, and robust collaborative interventions, to ensure that the suffering of pregnant women with mental-health disorders is adequately addressed,” Makarutse concludes.

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