Pregnant women face double threat in Ebola crisis countries

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund

Today, I call for urgent funding to meet the reproductive health needs of women and mothers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

As these nations fight the devastating impact of Ebola, pregnant women face a double threat, dying from Ebola or dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.

UNFPA Liberia

UNFPA Liberia Assistant Representative and Officer In Charge Dr. Philderald Pratt and midwives at the JFK Memorial Hospital maternity center in Monrovia. Photo credit: UNFPA Liberia

Women are affected in another way too. They are the primary caregivers of those who are sick and suffering, and they are responsible for burial preparations for lost loved ones.

In the three most affected countries, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, estimates that there are more than 800,000 women who will give birth during the next 12 months. Yet during their time of need, they face profound fear and a severe shortage of health services and health professionals.

Tell world leaders: Make bold commitments and help end the Ebola epidemic now.

Health services are buckling under the sheer volume of patients seeking treatment. Many health workers are becoming infected, hundreds of them are dying, and countless health facilities have been forced to close. As a result, women’s access to maternal health and family planning is extremely limited or inaccessible.

We estimate that 120,000 of these pregnant women will face complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and could die if the required life-saving emergency obstetric care is not provided.

The steady but fragile progress made in recent years by the Governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, with the support of UNFPA and others, has been wiped out in the last four months alone.

We are back to square one in crucial areas such as delivering better emergency maternal and newborn care and distributing reliable supplies of modern contraceptives.

UNFPA Liberia 2

Officer in Charge, UNFPA Liberia Dr. Philderald Pratt inspects the consignment of reproductive health kits along with the Director of the Family Health Division, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare Dr. Caullau Jabbeh-Howe. Photo credit: UNFPA Liberia

UNFPA is working in close partnership with the governments to restore health services, particularly to expectant and new mothers. We are setting up mobile clinics and recruiting retired midwives for delivery care at the community level. We are providing emergency clean delivery kits for women without access to clinics. We have delivered disinfectants, hand-washing equipment, and protective equipment, such as heavy-duty aprons and medical gloves, to facilitate safe delivery while protecting health workers from possible infection. We are also providing information to reduce fear and promote health seeking behavior.

UNFPA estimates that $64.5 million is needed to provide reproductive and maternal health services during the coming three months in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. So far, only $3 million has been provided.

We stand ready to serve Ebola’s most vulnerable victims: pregnant women.

Take action:

Sign our petition now. Tell world leaders: Make bold commitments and help end the Ebola epidemic now.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, a position he has held since January 2011. A renowned physician and public health expert, he was previously Nigerian Minister of Health and Director-General of the country’s agency on AIDS. At UNFPA, Dr. Osotimehin supervises efforts to promote sexual and reproductive health and the rights and ability of young people to build a better world.