New grant to explore poorly understood aspect of COVID-19

Karachi, January 20, 2021 (PPI-OT): The ever-changing nature of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means there are many areas where data about the virus’s effects is lacking or inconclusive. One such area is its impact on the health of pregnant women and their new-borns.

To date, studies have reported conflicting evidence on whether the disease is more likely to claim the lives of pregnant women, whether it can transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy or after childbirth, and if pregnant women, who are COVID positive, are at a higher risk of complications before and after birth.

AKU researchers have received a grant under a global study led by the World Health Organization’s Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research that has developed a protocol to gather evidence from pregnant women and new-borns in 13 countries around the world. The pregnancy cohort study, a part of the World Health Organization’s Unity Studies, seeks to address gaps in current knowledge regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and to inform evidence-based responses to the virus.

The University’s faculty in Pakistan will be leading the countrywide research drive, which will collect data from pregnant women and new-borns from public and private hospitals across Pakistan.

To identify those with a history of exposure to the virus, researchers will conduct PCR and antibody tests on pregnant women coming for hospital appointments. They will then follow up with these women regularly throughout pregnancy and into the post-partum period (up to six weeks after birth). Samples of the placenta, amniotic fluid, cord blood, breast milk and other bodily fluids will be collected to explore transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

“Pregnant women are especially vulnerable to infections and respiratory ailments as their body is undergoing physiological changes that elevate their oxygen requirements and circulating blood volume,” said AKU Professor Sarah Saleem, the study’s principal investigator. “The study’s findings will help develop recommendations on the surveillance, management and counselling of women during and after pregnancy, and shed light on fetal and neonatal health.”

Faculty from the University’s departments of community health sciences, obstetrics and gynaecology, pathology and laboratory medicine, and paediatrics and child health will collaborate on the study.

For more information, contact:
Media Executive
Department of Public Affairs
Aga Khan University (AKU)
Stadium Road, Karachi
Tel: +92-21-34930051
Fax: +92-21-34934294, +92-21-34932095
Cell: +92-301-8258028