More than half of the pregnant immigrant women seen by a medical charity in European clinics lack access to basic healthcare and permission to reside, Doctors of the World said on Monday (18 May).
Because of their illegal status, two thirds of the women restricted their movements out of fear of being arrested, hindering their access to antenatal care. Many were living in substandard temporary accommodation, heightening health risks.
Doctors of the World interviewed more than 300 pregnant women in clinics from Belgium to Turkey. More than half had no access to antenatal care prior to consulting the NGO, and of this group, most got medical attention only after the twelfth week of pregnancy, which is considered too late.
Xenophobia, increasingly hazardous migration routes, poor detention conditions and the constant fear of expulsion awaits migrants who seek safety and refuge in Europe, the charity said.
Women in pregnancy are particularly at risk. More than 80% of the pregnant women interviewed had no healthcare coverage. In Istanbul, 98% of the pregnant women seen – almost all from sub-Saharan Africa – had no coverage.
“Midwives and other maternity staff should not act as gatekeepers to maternity services,” said Lesley Page, president of Britain’s Royal College of Midwives.
“They owe a duty of care to all pregnant women who seek care from them and they should provide care to all pregnant women irrespective of ability to pay.”
A lack of antenatal care to prevent and identify conditions that may harm the foetus or mother increases the risk of complications during childbirth, or passing on diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis B, the World Health Organisation says.
“What is needed is compassion and care, not red tape and obstacles,” said Page. “The health implications for failing to treat and care for these women and their children can be profound and, indeed, fatal.”
Almost half the pregnant women, many of whom had lived in the European countries for several years, reported having at least one child, and of these almost half were living apart from one or more of them, said Doctors of the World.