Pregnant Women’s Risks Rise in the Height of the Ebola Epidemic
By Camille Parchment
Coverage of Ebola has become a daily topic of discussion for many media outlets. Though some sources may stray from the facts, there is no denying the severe impact Ebola has had on already struggling countries in Africa, especially their healthcare systems. Ebola has claimed the lives of many and has seen 20,000 cases since November. The fatality rate has recently increased to 70%. One of the first Ebola cases in the US claimed the life of a Texas man who was diagnosed with Ebola upon his return from Liberia. As more details emerge about how he first contracted this disease, it is believed it was done so by helping an infected pregnant woman. Now, many communities assume without cause that pregnant women complaining of any type of illness have Ebola.
Yolanda Romero, a UNICEF advocate, witnessed this occurring while working with a sensitization team in Sierra Leone. She wrote,
“The neighbors surround a young pregnant woman who walks with difficulty to the vehicle. She complains of persistent abdominal pain. Nobody helps her onto the stretcher fearing she has Ebola.” President Obama mentioned in his address to the UN on this crisis that, “It’s wiping out whole families. And it has turned simple acts of love and comfort – like holding a sick friend’s hand, or embracing a dying child – into potentially fatal acts.”
In a region where mortality rates are already relatively high, Ebola proves to bring further complications. Ill-equipped health care systems in countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are still trying to provide care for basic healthcare needs. However, they are experiencing major setbacks to the work that has been done so far because of the rise of Ebola. Even without the threat of Ebola, pregnant women face a multitude of health-based issues because they live in countries with already relatively poor or struggling health infrastructures. Some pregnant women who need treatment are choosing not to seek help because they fear that entering a hospital might actually increase their chances of contracting Ebola. Conversely, some hospitals are refusing patients for fear that their health care workers will contract the disease from an infected woman. This is further complicated by the story of one pregnant Liberian woman, Fatumata Fofana, who was turned away from a hospital because she did not have Ebola. Her medical complications did not receive attention and both she and her baby died. An overwhelmed healthcare system allows this story to be too common. For countries where their healthcare systems are already lacking, it will be an uphill battle to try to treat this disease among pregnant women in addition to the rest of the population.
Healthcare systems in West Africa have been unable to properly react to the quickly spreading Ebola virus because they are ill equipped, but this affects certain demographics more than others. In countries with poor maternal health care and already high maternal mortality rates, Ebola has only further exacerbated the conditions and conflicts pregnant women in these regions face.
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