Africa can’t let maternity care slide during the coronavirus pandemic

A nurse teaching a young how to properly breast feed at Tumaini maternity clinic supported by APHRC (African Population and Health Research Center) in Korogocho slum, one of Nairobi's most populated informal settlements. Young mothers that visit the clinic also receive family planning services and sexual reproductive health options.

Amid global commitments to defeat, or at least minimise, the pervasive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact on the African continent remains unclear. African governments have moved quickly to mobilise resources and strengthen their emergency preparedness and response capacities.

But particular attention needs to be paid to the most vulnerable members of the population. There are ongoing discussions on pressing health issues including women’s health.

More than two-thirds of the world’s maternal deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. The leading cause of maternal deaths is inadequate access to quality care during pregnancy or delivery or after birth.

The world has committed to improving maternal health through quality care. But the use of maternal health services in sub-Saharan Africa remains low. More than four-fifths of all maternal deaths are directly linked to poor and inadequate maternity services during pregnancy and childbirth and six weeks after birth.

COVID-19 and measures put in place to curb its spread may worsen the already poor access to quality maternal health services in parts of the continent. For example, the ongoing transmission mitigation strategies such as lockdown and curfews may intensify the dire consequences brought on by the lack of access to quality health services and by pre-existing maternal health problems. And struggling health systems may not have adequate capacity and space to attend to these routine healthcare needs.