COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to Drop of Maternal Health Care in Africa, Raising Fears of Increased Mortality
While almost every country has experienced disruption to its health services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries in Africa have been severely impacted, leading to the suspension of maternal, neonatal, and child health care.
While almost every country has experienced disruption to its health services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries in Africa have been severely impacted, leading to the suspension of maternal, neonatal, and child health care. Project HOPE warns that decades of progress made to prevent maternal complications and deaths across the continent could be reversed, and calls countries to develop public health responses that ensure the continuation of women’s health services during times of emergency.
“Globally, and in many African countries, women have borne the brunt of the harmful effects of the pandemic. They have had limited to no access to essential maternal and child health services for a significant time period as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and scarce resources in already overstretched hospitals and health centers,” says Eden Ahmed Mdluli, Senior Technical Officer for Maternal, Neonatal, and Child Health at Project HOPE.
While more data is needed to fully document the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on women and children across Africa, some preliminary numbers have showed a drop in utilization of essential reproductive, maternal and neonatal health services.
The number of women who attended the recommended medical visits during pregnancy dropped by 18 percent in Liberia, and the initiation of women seeking medical care during pregnancy fell by 16 percent in Nigeria, according to findings by the Global Financing Facility. Additionally, a recent modelling study across 118 of the world’s countries estimated that between 8.3 percent and 38.6 percent more pregnant women could die each month. In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria, this would add an additional 1,280 and 6,700 maternal deaths to the already staggering 16,000 and 67,000 respective maternal deaths each year.
These numbers echo a recent warning from the World Health Organization in Africa, which reported a rise in maternal deaths in 10 countries with the highest increases recorded in the Comoros, Mali, Senegal and South Africa.
In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, curfews imposed in certain African countries made it difficult for pregnant women to reach clinics and/or hospitals after curfew time. Many health centers, which offer free or low-cost services, also closed during the pandemic, especially if one staff or more had been infected by the virus. Many hospitals also had to rearrange their units to accommodate COVID-19 patients. In many cases, it meant diverting resources for existing medical needs to COVID-19 needs, leaving pregnant women and new mothers without access to adequate care.
“People are extremely vulnerable during a pandemic. That’s why it is even more critical to ensure the continuation of quality and safe women’s health services during times of emergency. Countries must develop a public health response that ensures the provision of maternal and child health services in such critical times. Pandemics should not present either-or propositions,” says Ahmed Mdluli.
Project HOPE also calls countries to strengthen the collection of qualitative data to identify the exact cause(s) of death during pregnancy and childbirth recorded during the pandemic. This will help ensure the right steps are taken to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Before the pandemic, significant strides were made in ensuring healthy lives and reducing some of the common killers associated with maternal and child mortality. Today, the world’s ability to meet the important Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 requires taking stock of the challenges faced during the pandemic and a recommitment to ensure equitable health care access for the most vulnerable populations.
Project HOPE has worked to save the lives of women and babies around the world since 1985. Our strategic priority is to achieve a global community where no woman or newborn risks dying from preventable causes. That’s why we’re working every day to improve access to quality care, build the skills of health care workers, and expand community support in places where mothers and infants need it most.
In 2020, through its Maternal, Neonatal, and Child Health programs, Project HOPE reached a total of 259,358 women, newborns, children under 5, and health care workers worldwide. We trained 3,404 health care workers in essential maternal and neonatal interventions, and provided direct services to 214,739 pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as 5,890 children under 5.
About Project HOPE:
Project HOPE is a global health and humanitarian relief organization that is committed to placing power in the hands of local health care workers to save lives across the globe. Read more here.