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The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Wednesday said that essential services for women, children and adolescents should be continued irrespective of their COVID-19 status.

Ministry’s Guidance Note on Provision of Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health Plus Nutrition (RMNCAH+N) services during and post COVID-19 pandemic” released on Wednesday.

In it, the ministry said that services related to pregnancy care management, newborn care and childhood illness management, immunisation services, management of severe acute malnutrition in children, family planning services, comprehensive abortion care services and adolescent health services are essential.

The ministry stated that these essential services should be continued in a restricted manner in areas defined as containment and buffer zones.

The guidance note elaborates that services such as antenatal and newborn care, immunization, family planning and adolescent health among others are to be provided at different levels in accordance with the zonal categorization of containment zones, buffer zones and beyond these zones.

“With more than 2.5 crore pregnancies each year in the country, it is important to ensure the availability of services during this period as any denial of services can have an impact on maternal and newborn mortalities, morbidities as well as the health care costs,” the guidelines stated.

The ministry also said that mother and newborn should be nursed together as far as possible and breastfeeding must be initiated within 1 hour of delivery, irrespective of COVID-19 status.

However, the mother should put on a face mask and practice hand hygiene before feeding the child.

“COVID-19 testing is not mandatory for RMNCAH+N service. ICMR testing guidelines need to be followed,” it said while underlining that teleconsultation services to be promoted at all levels to prevent overcrowding and reduce cross-infection.

Drugs, commodities needed for continuing such services, should be treated as essential commodities and home deliveries of essential medicines like calcium, ORS, zinc, contraceptives etc. can be organized in containment zones.

According to the guidance note, any area exiting a ‘containment/ buffer zone’ can start such activities as listed in ‘areas beyond the buffer zone’ after a minimum gap of 14 days following delisting.

Not for Profit/private sector hospitals can be involved in the provision of non-COVID essential services, wherever public sector capacity needs to be supported, it said,

According to the guidance note, practices of physical distancing, hand washing, and respiratory hygiene need to be maintained at all service areas by all beneficiaries and service providers and facilities should follow a staggered approach, wherein adequate seating space for beneficiaries and care-givers with physical distancing is ensured.

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