Ebola outbreak stunted maternal health care progress

Prior to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, west African countries had made meaningful strides in reducing maternal mortality and improving access to care for mothers and children. Unfortunately, a new Lancet Global Health study in Guinea shows that Ebola not only stunted that progress, but set it back significantly.

As illustrated in the graphs below, across the study’s key maternal health indicators of prenatal care visits and in-facility deliveries, progress was trending positively pre-outbreak. The outbreak reversed all of those trends. Although some improvements have been made post-outbreak, the progress has not been swift and, in some cases, it appears to be stagnating.

Although this study did not measure health outcomes, other research has shown that poor maternal health care can result in unsafe births and untreated postpartum complications in both mothers and babies.

The study authors posit several ways in which the Ebola outbreak may have hurt maternal health care access, including seeding mistrust of health providers, causing critical health workers to flee, and diverting funding away from roads and other services that facilitate clinic access.

Regardless of their cause, the setbacks quantified by this study make it clear that the work of recovering from this outbreak is far from over. As the co-author of a commentary on the study concluded, “Ending the epidemic showed what these [countries and their implementing] partners were capable of, but their greatest responsibility has only just begun.”

 

Graphs show impact of outbreak on maternal health indicators

Charts show number of women receiving at least one or at least three antenatal care visits and number giving birth in a health facility, Forest region, Guinea from January, 2013, to February, 2016. Three periods shown are pre-outbreak, during outbreak and post-outbreak. EVD=Ebola virus disease.