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Barriers to maternal health services during the Ebola outbreak in three West African countries: a literature review

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Piper Yerger, Mohamed Jalloh, Cordelia E M Coltart, Carina King



The Ebola virus disease (EVD) outbreak in West Africa, affecting Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone from 2014 to 2016, was a substantial public health crisis with health impacts extending past EVD itself. Access to maternal health services (MHS) was disrupted during the epidemic, with reductions in antenatal care, facility-based deliveries and postnatal care. We aimed to identify and describe barriers related to the uptake and provision of MHS during the 2014–2016 EVD outbreak in West Africa.


In June 2020, we conducted a scoping review of peer-reviewed publications and grey literature from relevant stakeholder organisations. Search terms were generated to identify literature that explained underlying access barriers to MHS. Published literature in scientific journals was first searched and extracted from PubMed and Web of Science databases for the period between 1 January 2014 and 27 June 2020. We hand-searched relevant stakeholder websites. A ‘snowball’ approach was used to identify relevant sources uncaptured in the systematic search. The identified literature was examined to synthesise themes using an existing framework.


Nineteen papers were included, with 26 barriers to MHS uptake and provision identified. Three themes emerged: (1) fear and mistrust, (2) health system and service constraints, and (3) poor communication. Our analysis of the literature indicates that fear, experienced by both service users and providers, was the most recurring barrier to MHS. Constrained health systems negatively impacted MHS on the supply side. Poor communication and inadequately coordinated training efforts disallowed competent provision of MHS.


Barriers to accessing MHS during the EVD outbreak in West Africa were influenced by complex but inter-related factors at the individual, interpersonal, health system and international level. Future responses to EVD outbreaks need to address underlying reasons for fear and mistrust between patients and providers, and ensure MHS are adequately equipped both routinely and during crises.