Pregnant women and new mothers face numerous challenges when it comes to accessing adequate healthcare, particularly in areas affected by climate change. In climate-affected regions, extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, and heatwaves are becoming more frequent and intense.
“Pregnant women endure increased health risks, including dehydration, malnutrition, and exposure to infectious diseases. Heat stress during pregnancy can lead to premature births and low birth weights, estimates suggest 16% higher risk of preterm birth during heatwave days compared to on non-heatwave days, and low birthweight rate 9% higher during periods with hotter than usual temperature, with babies on average 26 g lighter. Prolonged droughts can compromise access to clean water and sanitation facilities, heightening the risk of maternal and neonatal mortality. Malaria infection has been known to cause severe malaria-induced anaemia during pregnancy and increase the risk of intrauterine growth restriction, preterm birth, and low birthweight. Dengue transmission is also expected to increase, with approximately 5–6 B people considered at risk by the end of the century, maternal dengue infection is capable of vertical transmission to the foetus, causing foetal or perinatal mortality,” says Dr. Sabine Kapasi, Gynaecologist, IVF Specialist, Healthcare Policy, & Public health leader for global policy.
The constant threat of natural disasters and their aftermath take a toll on the emotional and mental well-being of pregnant women and mothers like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress. “Climate change exacerbates existing socioeconomic disparities, leaving pregnant women and mothers in vulnerable situations. Disruptions to agricultural activities and damage to infrastructure make it harder for families to secure food and livelihoods. Limited access to healthcare facilities, transportation, and prenatal care further compounds the difficulties faced by expectant mothers,” adds Dr Kapasi.
In climate-affected areas, pregnant women and new mothers face unique challenges when it comes to accessing healthcare. Climate change has brought about an array of environmental disasters, including extreme weather events, rising temperatures, and increased disease prevalence, which disproportionately impact rural communities.
Dr Neelam Suri, Senior Consultant, Gynecology, Apollo 24|7, and Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, says, “As pregnant women and the growing foetus experience extraordinary physiological and psychological changes fairly rapidly, they are already a vulnerable lot. From cardiac changes in the form of increased heart rate, stroke volume and cardiac output, to endocrine changes, to changes in renal anatomy, to changes in alimentary canal, to changes in skeletal and bone density, they are already experiencing a whole range of bodily and psychological changes.”
Similarly, new mothers go through several changes in their body and mind. Keeping in mind that the persistent high temperature is an important characteristic of climate-affected areas, when pregnant women are exposed to high temperatures for long, they might have to face still birth, congenital birth defects and preterm delivery, among other issues. And younger mothers are at an even higher risk of facing such adverse outcomes. “Similarly, poor air quality, another strong sign of a climate-affected area, too can impinge on maternal and child health by way of outcomes such as pre-term birth, low birth weight or SGA, Intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) etc. And with the frequency of extreme weather events — such as excessive rainfall, cyclones and thunderstorms, floods and landslides, droughts, forest fires etc – continuously increasing particularly in climate-affected regions, expectant mothers and new mothers are likely to be thwarted form timely accessing necessary healthcare facilities, services and expertise as well as essential foods and nutrition. This makes them and the to-be-born or the newly-born even more vulnerable in climate-affected areas,” adds Dr Suri.
Dr. Vishesh Kasliwal, Mbbs, mba, dem and Founder, medyseva explains the how inadequate services coupled with climate changes affects pregnant women:
Limited Access to Healthcare:
Rural areas are often characterized by inadequate healthcare infrastructure, with limited availability of clinics, hospitals, and qualified healthcare professionals. Climate-related events such as floods, storms, and droughts can further damage or destroy these essential facilities, exacerbating the already dire situation. Consequently, pregnant women and new mothers find themselves without easy access to prenatal and postnatal care, endangering their well-being and that of their infants.
Impact on Maternal and Child Health:
The lack of timely healthcare services can lead to increased maternal and infant mortality rates. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth often require immediate medical attention, and delays in receiving appropriate care can have severe consequences. Moreover, climate-related factors, such as heatwaves and poor air quality, can directly affect the health of expectant mothers and their newborns, leading to complications and long-term health issues.
The Role of Rural Telemedicine:
Rural telemedicine offers a promising solution to bridge the gap in healthcare access for pregnant women and new mothers in climate-affected areas. By leveraging technology, we can connect these women with healthcare professionals remotely, ensuring timely consultations and access to vital medical advice. Telemedicine enables remote monitoring of pregnancies, early detection of potential risks, and provision of necessary interventions, all from the comfort of their homes.
Additionally, telemedicine platforms can provide educational resources, enabling women to make informed decisions about their health and that of their babies. Virtual support groups and counseling services can also help alleviate the emotional burden faced by new mothers in these challenging circumstances.
Ways To Help Pregnant women in climate affected areas
Climate change continues to have far-reaching consequences, and pregnant women and new mothers in rural areas are particularly vulnerable. “However, through the power of rural telemedicine, we can overcome barriers and ensure that these women receive the healthcare they deserve. By providing accessible, affordable, and comprehensive remote care, we can empower them to navigate the challenges of motherhood in climate-affected regions. Let us embrace the potential of telemedicine to create a healthier and more resilient future for all mothers and their children,” adds Dr Kasliwal.
The plight of pregnant women and mothers in climate-affected areas is a pressing concern that demands attention. “Governments, international organizations, and communities should work together to implement climate adaptation measures, including improved healthcare infrastructure, access to clean water, and emergency response systems. Social support networks and mental health services must be expanded to address the emotional well-being. Furthermore, empowering women through education, financial resources, and livelihood opportunities can enhance their resilience and ability to navigate climate-related challenges,” signs off Dr Kapasi.