In an opinion piece for African Arguments, Amujae Leader Oley Dibba-Wadda sheds light on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on maternal health in African countries. While Africa has seen relatively low death rates from the virus, it is a “hollow victory,” Ms. Dibba-Wadda writes, because of how the pandemic has impacted women’s access to healthcare.
In particular, the lockdown orders have affected women’s access to essential healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth, already an acute problem in the region:
“Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for two-thirds of maternal deaths (about 196,000) around the world annually. In recent weeks, these numbers have skyrocketed, as mothers either deliver at home or are forced to attend private clinics to deliver, and thus don’t receive the specialist care that they need.”
Ms. Dibba-Wadda, who is also the Founder, President, and CEO of the Gam Africa Institute for Leadership (GAIL), notes that women commonly undertake caregiver roles in their families and communities, and the pandemic has increased this burden. However, she writes that information about how to safely care for people who have contracted COVID-19 is not reaching the communities where it is needed.
One solution to this problem is community-based, and comes from previous epidemic experience:
“During and after the Ebola outbreaks in Liberia, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf introduced community health workers who played a key role in not only countering Ebola, but also providing healthcare for women in remote communities and to those who were unable to access healthcare in more formal settings.”
The issue of maternal health in the current pandemic is being highlighted by several organizations, Ms. Dibba-Wadda writes. These include the Gambian Women’s Lives Matter campaign and Every Mother Counts, a global maternal health organization that is campaigning to improve maternal health worldwide.
Ms. Dibba-Wadda also calls for an end to the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is on the rise amid the pandemic and leads to increased health risks for women and girls:
“There are documented links between FGM and increased risks of excessive blood loss during labour. Yet the practice continues, and rates are likely to have increased during the pandemic.”
Read the full op-ed here.