Dubai's Arab Health to examine why women had fewer babies during Covid-19 pandemic

Health crises and economic shocks have long been recognised as factors that alter reproductive behaviour

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Experts in obstetrics and gynecology will meet at the Arab Health summit in Dubai this month to discuss why women have decided not to have babies because of the pandemic.

The Arab Health Obstetrics and Gynecology Conference will discuss trends in women’s health, including the impact of Covid-19 on reproduction and fertility.

Dr Human Fatemi, group medical director of ART Fertility Clinics in Abu Dhabi, said the pandemic has people rethinking their plans to have children.

As a specialist in infertility, I would not be worried about Covid-19 and getting pregnant
Dr Human Fatemi, group medical director of ART Fertility Clinics

"The pandemic has definitely postponed the desire to be parents, and the desire of having a child," he said.

"For some patients, especially women who have reduced ovarian reserve and are older, the pandemic will significantly impact fulfilling their desire to have a child.

"As a specialist in infertility, I would not be worried about Covid-19 and getting pregnant. The key message is to maintain hygiene, wear masks, ensure social distancing and be cautious. If you have a reduced ovarian reserve and desire to get pregnant, one should not delay it."

Several pieces of research show a direct correlation between the pandemic and women's desire to have babies.

According to research from the United Nations Population Fund, public health crises and economic shocks have long been recognised as conditions that alter reproductive behaviour.

Data from the US, Europe and East Asia reveals sharp declines in births starting in October 2020, compared to the same months the previous year, indicating Covid-19 has prompted a short-term fertility decline in many countries.

Research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies shows one in five Australian women changed their baby plans because of the pandemic, and one in seven women indicated it probably impacted when they would have children, with most of the study cohort (92 per cent) choosing to delay getting pregnant.

This was supported by a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science journal, which reported on the relationship between the pandemic and births for 22 high-income countries, finding particularly strong declines in southern Europe – Italy (-9.1 per cent), Spain (-8.4 per cent) and Portugal (-6.6 per cent).

However, doctors said research does not prove there is a greater risk to pregnant women. They should follow precautions and can safely deliver babies.

Dr Kiran Mehndiratta, specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at NMC Speciality Hospital Abu Dhabi, told The National in May 2020 - during the peak of the first wave - that pregnant women are not at an increased risk compared to others.

That said, she added it was important to know the immunity of pregnant women is reduced to ensure the baby is not rejected by the mother, as half of its genes come from the father.

That means anyone with complications in pregnancy, such as diabetes or hypertension, which are known to be risk factors for severe Covid-19, could be at higher risk, too.

Most of the “very small number” of pregnant women who had tested positive for Covid-19 at NMC Speciality Hospital, where Dr Mehndiratta works, were also asymptomatic.

“Only a few of them gradually developed a cough,” she said.

This backs theories that suggest pregnant women are no more vulnerable than others to the effects of Covid-19.

The Obstetrics and Gynecology Conference is a regular feature of Arab Health, which will be held at the Dubai World Trade Centre from January 24 to 27.

The conference will host several key sessions covering fertility, reproduction and Covid-19, including a session on ‘Covid-19 and the fetus’, presented by Prof Asma Khalil, who specialises in obstetrics and maternal-fetal medicine at St George’s University Hospital, London. A session on ‘Covid-19 and the impact on fertility’ will be presented by Dr Johnny T Awwad, executive chairman of women’s services and chief of reproductive medicine at Sidra Medicine & Research Centre, Qatar.

Updated: January 19, 2022, 2:27 PM