Previous public health and humanitarian crises, such as the 2014-2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, have highlighted the severe impacts such crises have on maternal and child health outcomes, as well as providing guidance on the steps that can be taken to mitigate against them.
The basic rights of choosing when to have a child and the ability to receive professional, skilled care during pregnancy are key elements of protecting women’s and girls’ health. However, these rights are dependent on having access to effective and accessible health systems.
During times of crises, as governments adopt “all hands on desk” style policies, health care workers such as midwives and nurses are often re-allocated from existing maternal health services to other front line responses to the crisis. This can leave maternal services understaffed and unable to meet existing demand.
Concerns for maternal health in Sierra Leone during this pandemic
Women and children in remote communities are significantly affected, as health outreach services, such as visits by community health workers and broad scale government immunisation projects, are often cancelled or postponed.
Pregnant women and new mothers also face difficult decisions in these times. With reductions in household finances and widespread fear about the safety of health centres, ante-natal appointments may be cancelled and child immunisation appointments deferred, delayed or not taken up at all. Recent figures show that the only children’s hospital in Sierra Leone has already seen a 75% decrease in patient numbers.2
In countries like Sierra Leone, where maternal deaths3 account for over 20% of deaths in women of reproductive age,4 further disruption to usual services can have devastating effects. Early and sustained action to ensure continued access to maternal health services is vital to mitigating the short, medium and long-term consequences this pandemic may have on the lives of women and girls in Sierra Leone.
The Aberdeen Women’s Centre’s COVID-19 response
The Aminata Maternal Foundation is working with the Aberdeen Women’s Centre in Freetown, Sierra Leone to ensure that vulnerable women and girls continue to have access to free maternal health services during this difficult time. Measures to ensure physical distancing and to enhance personal hygiene are being taken at the Centre and staff, who were already familiar with enhanced infection prevention control procedures from their experience during the Ebola outbreak, have been given updated training on COVID-19.
In times like this, there is an additional burden of cost required to keep all patients and staff safe. Women, however, still need access to good quality services to deliver their babies safely and hygienically: the Aberdeen Women’s Centre is doing its best to continue to operate effectively while undertaking the enhanced COVID-19 preventive actions required. The Foundation welcomes any additional support you can provide at this time.