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Childbirth doesn't stop for pandemics, neither do midwives. Here's the story of Malani from Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, 5 May - Malani Rathanayaka has been a midwife for 20 years, but in the last few weeks her work has changed beyond recognition thanks to COVID-19. 

At her last clinic in early April some 30 mothers attended, but everyone sat one metre apart. Today, just a month later, even that is not possible, and house calls are limited to emergencies while clinics, community strengthening programmes and vaccination drives are on hold. Malani now keeps in touch with 28 expectant mothers over the phone. 

She tells them to wash their hands frequently, to stay at home as much as possible, and to contact her without any hesitation if they have a question. 

“It is important that there’s a good rapport between us and the mothers,” she says, adding that many families in the area are struggling to make ends meet as the pandemic has killed their livelihoods. Cases of domestic violence have also spiked under COVID-19 lockdowns and tensions are running high.  

 “Amid all these difficulties, not only myself but all other officers and my colleagues work with the utmost dedication by continuing the home visits and the process of registering mothers following the proper guidelines of the Government,” says Malani. 

Malani heard about the threat of COVID-19 at a conference organized by the Medical Officer of Health, and subsequently received a briefing note about the impact of the virus in China which outlined the symptoms and their severity. Aside from the two briefings, Malani has not yet received any COVID-19 specific training – but she hopes that her grounding in general respiratory care will suffice in the case of emergency. 

Every time she goes out, she puts on a mask and gloves and prays that it will be enough. There is a widespread shortage of hand sanitizers, and so she uses soap, and washes her hands frequently. When she returns home, Malani painstakingly disinfects her bicycle, keys and bag. With an ongoing shortage of personal protective equipment, she is considering stitching something that will protect her more comprehensively. 

“I fear for my family as well as the community,” she says, admitting that her biggest worry is that she might infect her own children. She sleeps in a separate room from the rest of her family, and even her little daughter understands how important her mother’s work is. 

“My family is extremely proud of my commitment and dedication to my work,” she says, “They are really happy about the service that I render to the public even at such difficult times.” 

UNFPA, the UN's sexual and reproductive health agency, works in Sri Lanka and over 150 other countries globally to achieve zero maternal deaths, zero unmet need for family planning, and zero gender-based violence and other harmful practices against women and girls - a vision enshrined in the Programme of Action stemming from the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

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