Maternal health and reproductive care were already facing known disparities before COVID-19 made its impact on the world.
In 2017, more than 800 women in the world died daily from preventable pregnancy and childbirth related causes across the world (Witter, 2020). Also, at that point in time, 10 million girls ages 15-19 were experiencing unplanned pregnancies every year (Witter, 2020). So, it is to be expected that when the world faces a pandemic that causes an incline in challenges to accessing resources, that poorer health outcomes are going to be experienced amongst this same threatened group (Witter, 2020).
During a health crisis, funds are reallocated and shifted to different resources (Witter, 2020), thus having a monumental impact on an already vulnerable population. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sana Frontiérs partnered with governments around the world in an attempt to prioritize reproductive services as essential during the COVID-19 pandemic (Kuehn, 2020). The cutbacks in maternal health funds alone has the potential to lead to 113,000 women dying in the upcoming months, specifically in low- and middle-income countries (Witter, 2020).
However, we are already seeing the negative impact the pandemic is having on maternal and reproductive health.
History saw this similar effect occur when the Ebola outbreak took place from 2014-2016. Prior to 2014, the maternal death rate experienced in Sierra Leone had decreased by over 50% since 1990 (Witter, 2020). However, when Ebola took precedence, this progress was halted (Witter, 2020). A massive spike in the maternal mortality ratio was witnessed during this time. This was due to women avoiding medical facilities as a result of strict quarantine restrictions and misconceptions about the virus (Witter, 2020).
COVID-19 has the potential to have this same impact on maternal deaths amongst some countries.
Per the London based Marie Stopes International, roughly 2 million fewer women have accessed their services across 37 countries since COVID-19 (Kuehn, 2020). The Marie Stopes International is an organization aiming to provide abortion and contraception care to women and families internationally (Marie Stopes International, 2019). The pandemic has threatened to prevent 49 million women and girls from having access to contraceptives and projects around 15 million unplanned pregnancies over the next year (Witter, 2020). This carries a huge burden that could be felt globally.
However, some innovative approaches have been put into action to continue maternal and reproductive health care despite the current challenges. The UK has been working since April 2020 to provide telehealth care to 7,000 women administering a medical abortion at their homes (Kuehn, 2020). Local immunization programs were utilized in Zimbabwe as integrated family planning and contraception services (Kuehn, 2020).
As the world continues to navigate through COVID-19, clinics and services will continue to have to be ingenious with resources and knowledgeable on how to continue to provide sustainable maternal and reproductive care through a pandemic.
Kuehn, B. (2020). COVID-19 halts reproductive care for millions of women. JAMA,324(15), 1489. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19025
Marie Stopes International. (2019). What we do. https://www.mariestopes.org/what-we-do/
Witter, A. (2020). How COVID-19 is threatening maternal and reproductive care. ONE. Retrieved from https://www.one.org/international/blog/maternal-reproductive-care-womens-health-covid-19/