Croatia Urged to Give Pregnant Woman Pain-Relief Jabs on Demand

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After women in the coastal resort city of Dubrovnik launched a petition calling for pregnant women to be able to receive an anaesthetic injection known as an epidural block at any time of day, Dubrovnik General Hospital responded that it is understaffed – a problem exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Considering the fact that healthcare has significantly improved since, for example, the 18th Century, and that an epidural block is a perfectly normal thing in all advanced countries, we believe that demanding epidural blocks at the Dubrovnik General Hospital is silly, but necessary,” said the petition.

The petition, which has attracted almost 3,400 supporters since it was launched on Sunday, claimed that currently, women can only get an epidural injection at the hospital between 8am and 4pm.

The hospital’s reply on Monday said that it currently has nine anaesthesiologists, but that that this is not enough, and that due to the extra workload caused by pandemic, some of the anaesthesiologists did not even manage to use their holidays in 2020.

“We are able to ensure that epidural blocks are administered in the period from 7.30am to 9pm. In order to meet the demands from the petition the hospital would have to – in the period of the COVID-19 pandemic and extraordinary conditions – employ two additional anaesthesiologists. This is currently not possible since there are not enough specialisats in Croatia,” the hospital said.

Croatia has problems with a lack of doctors and nurses, but also with the emigration of medical workers to other countries in the European Union in search of better opportunities.

This has japed to cause a chronic shortage of paediatricians, anaesthesiologists and gynaecologists – more than 400,000 women in Croatia do not have a gynaecologist, and often have to wait a long time for health check-ups and tests.

Daniela Drandic, who heads the Reproductive Rights Programme at the NGO Roda – Parents in Action, told BIRN that unfortunately, the situation in Dubrovnik is not uncommon.

“The conditions in most of the maternity wards in Croatia are completely the same… There is a huge shortage of anaesthesiologists and since it takes ten or more years to train doctors to specialise in anaesthesiology this is not a problem which can be resolved quickly,” Drandic said.

However, she believes that the problem could be temporarily resolved “by investing – in the shortest period possible – in increasing the number of highly educated midwives”.

“This way they can be with the women giving birth, one-on-one, and help and support the woman through labour. That way the need for painkiller medicine could be minimised,” she explained.

However, she also argued that there is no political will to tackle reproductive healthcare problems and implement long-term policies to resolve them.

“In 2018, Roda contacted Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic asking for a working group to be set up to prepare an action plan for women’s health. We are still waiting for a reply,” she said.

Three years ago, Roda’s Break the Silence campaign highlighted some of the serious problems women face in Croatia’s healthcare system by asking for stories about reproductive healthcare procedures without anaesthetic.

In the responses that the NGO received, women spoke of issues ranging from surgical miscarriage to suturing after vaginal childbirth, biopsies of reproductive organs and egg harvesting for IVF procedures.

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