Services for Mothers and Newborns During the Ebola Outbreak in Liberia: The Need for Improvement in Emergencies

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The magnitude of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is unprecedented. Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are in the bottom ten countries in the Human Development Index, but all had made gains in child survival prior to the outbreak. With closure of healthcare facilities and the loss of health workers secondary to the outbreak, the region risks reversing survival gains achieved in maternal and newborn health.

Anonymized service utilization data were downloaded from the Liberia District Health Information Software (DHIS) 2 for selected maternal health services at PHC facilities in Margibi and Bong Counties from March 2014, when the first case of Ebola was reported in Liberia, through December 2014. Absolute numbers are provided instead of percentage measures because of the lack of a population-based denominator.

Overall, the data show a decrease in absolute utilization from the start of the outbreak, followed by a slow recovery after October or November. In Bong County, totals were less than 14% of the peak numbers during the outbreak for number of antenatal visits and pregnant women receiving intermittent preventive treatment for malaria in pregnancy (IPTp). For total deliveries, utilization was less than 33% of the highest month. In Margibi County, during what now appears to be the height of the outbreak, numbers dropped to less than 9% of peak utilization for antenatal care visits and 4% for IPTp. Total health facility deliveries dropped to less than 9% of peak utilization.

It is clear that Bong and Margibi Counties in Liberia experienced a large drop in utilization of maternal health care services during what now appears to be the peak of the Ebola outbreak. As the health of women and their babies is being promoted in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, it is critical that the issue of maternal and newborn survival in humanitarian emergency settings, like the Ebola outbreak, is prioritized.