The survival rate for pregnant women infected with the Ebola virus is historically very low. Because the disease is a hemorrhagic fever, women who go into labour are at great risk of bleeding to death.
In order to better respond to the needs of expectant mothers infected with Ebola, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has opened a specialized maternity unit at one of its Ebola treatment centre Sierra Leone.
In the video above, you can meet Adama, one of the unit's first patients, who lost her child but survived the Ebola virus.
Press Release: MSF opens maternity unit for pregnant women with Ebola
Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has opened a new maternity unit for pregnant women with Ebola – or those suspected of having Ebola –at a treatment centre in Sierra Leone.
The unit is in Kissy, a suburb of the capital Freetown, and is within an Ebola treatment centre MSF has been running since January 8. The centre has been admitting patients for the past three weeks, but the new maternity unit will enable medical teams to provide specialized care for pregnant women.
MSF midwife Ruth Kauffman, who has been helping to pioneer some of the organization’s work with expectant mothers and Ebola in Sierra Leone, says that up until now most pregnant Ebola patients had little chance of survival. “Before this outbreak, all we really knew about pregnancy and Ebola was that usually the women die, either while pregnant or else during the birth,” she says. “Ebola is a hemorrhagic fever, so once a woman goes into labour, she will most likely bleed to death.”
An opportunity to gain essential lifesaving information
Relatively little is known about Ebola and pregnancy, so the opening of the new maternity unit will bring about increased understanding of the effects of Ebola on this vulnerable group and how obstetric care for infected women can be improved.
“Medical staff in the maternity unit will focus on trying to minimize the mother’s bleeding while in labour and after delivery, to prevent her dying from a hemorrhage,” says Olivia Hill, MSF’s medical coordinator in Freetown. “The mother’s chances of survival are relatively low, but the prognosis for the fetus is much worse.”
The maternity unit has 33 beds for confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola, while the treatment centre has another 40 beds, where some pregnant women have already been treated.
“The number of people infected in earlier Ebola outbreaks was too low to gain an understanding of how Ebola impacted pregnancy, and little research had been done,” says Kauffman. “But as we’re seeing so many more people infected with the disease in this outbreak, we are learning a lot more.”
Since the onset of the Ebola outbreak, pregnant women have had limited access to healthcare. Fever and bleeding – both common during pregnancy – are also symptoms of Ebola, so health staff have often been reluctant to admit them to hospital or let them deliver in health facilities out of fear of being contaminated.
Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.