Facing the camera

Pasifika doctor Kara Okesene-Gafa and her midwife daughter Shekinah Gafa, joined forces when they saw first hand, the impact of Covid-19 on pregnant mums.

Facing the camera
O & G specialist Dr Karaponi Okesene-Gafa and her daughter, Shekinah Gafa, a registered midwife, deliver a message about COVID-19 vaccination and pregnancy.

Dr Kara Okesene-Gafa is not someone who’s used to the putting herself in front of a camera. But the experience of treating Covid-positive pregnant women was so traumatising for this specialist in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Middlemore Hospital, she was motivated to raise awareness of the dangers posed by Covid-19 to unvaccinated mums.

Joining forces | Together with her midwife daughter Shekinah Gafa, Kara made a video explaining the vaccine’s safety and encouraging Pasifika women to get vaccinated.

“Within 48 hours of going into lockdown in August 2021, we had women arriving at hospital very sick with Covid. We didn’t know what to expect with Delta as we were not familiar with this variant in pregnant women. Everyone within the hospital had to make quick adjustments to the way we provide care to Covid-positive cases. It was tiring for the staff and very difficult for the pregnant mums who were very unwell. They could not have visitors and had premature babies with no family or social support around them. I thought – man, this is no life. We have to do everything we can to look after pregnant women sick with Covid so they are not overly compromised, and at the same time, learn to protect ourselves and other staff.”

"Our staff just got on with the job and never showed that they were scared or anxious. They never said they felt vulnerable, but this was our first experience of pregnant women with Delta."
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A facebook post from Kara and the Middlemore Hospital team in Auckland, August 2021. Image courtesy of Kara Okesene-Gafa.

Data from the United Kingdom between February and September 2021 showed that of pregnant women admitted to hospital with severe Covid, 98-99% were unvaccinated. And of all patients admitted to UK hospitals symptomatic with Covid, 20% were pregnant women.

In pregnancy, women’s respiratory systems are placed under greater strain. Compressed by the growth of the baby, it is difficult to clear congestion from Covid-infected lungs. Clinicians now also know that the placenta can be negatively impacted too, increasing the risk of pre-eclampsia – a potentially life-threatening condition for mother and baby which can also cause babies to be born underweight.

“I was so traumatised after this first experience of Delta, I thought – we must go out and develop a video."

Image Description
Kara and her colleague Sarah, in full PPE at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital during the August 2021 lockdown. Photo courtesy of Kara Okesene-Gafa.

Kara's concern for vaccine hesitant mums was echoed by her worry for staff working with very sick, highly infectious women. “Our staff just got on with the job, and never showed that they were scared or anxious. They never said they felt vulnerable, but this was our first experience of pregnant women with Delta – women who were coughing continuously. We had to up our game and work together in multidisciplinary teams to care for them, as well as look after ourselves.”

Kara and Shekinah’s video has been replicated by other mother and daughter medics around the country. “We’re just helping alleviate the fear that stops pregnant women getting vaccinated. Vaccination is safe, Covid-19 is not.”

Follow this link to see Kara and Shekinah's video about Covid-19 and pregnancy.