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‘Women and babies are dying but not of Ebola’: the effect of the Ebola virus epidemic on the availability, uptake and outcomes of maternal and newborn health services in Sierra Leone
  1. Susan A Jones,
  2. Somasundari Gopalakrishnan,
  3. Charles A Ameh,
  4. Sarah White,
  5. Nynke R van den Broek
  1. Centre for Maternal and Newborn Health, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to Susan A Jones; Susan.A.Jones{at}


Background We sought to determine the impact of the Ebola virus epidemic on the availability, uptake and outcome of routine maternity services in Sierra Leone.

Methods The number of antenatal and postnatal visits, institutional births, availability of emergency obstetric care (EmOC), maternal deaths and stillbirths were assessed by month, by districts and by level of healthcare for 10 months during, and 12 months prior to, the Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic. All healthcare facilities designated to provide comprehensive (n=13) or basic (n=67) EmOC across the 13 districts of Sierra Leone were included.

Results Preservice students were not deployed during the EVD epidemic. The number of healthcare providers in facilities remained constant (incidence rate ratio (IRR) 1.03, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.07). Availability of antibiotics, oxytocics, anticonvulsants, manual removal of placenta, removal of retained products of conception, blood transfusion and caesarean section were not affected by the EVD epidemic. Across Sierra Leone, following the onset of the EVD epidemic, there was a 18% decrease in the number of women attending for antenatal (IRR 0.82, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.84); 22% decrease in postnatal attendance (IRR 0.78, 95% CI 0.75 to 0.80) visits and 11% decrease in the number of women attending for birth at a healthcare facility (IRR 0.89, 95% CI 0.87 to 0.91). There was a corresponding 34% increase in the facility maternal mortality ratio (IRR 1.34, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.69) and 24% increase in the stillbirth rate (IRR 1.24, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.35).

Conclusions During the EVD epidemic, fewer pregnant women accessed healthcare. For those who did, an increase in maternal mortality and stillbirth was observed. In the post-Ebola phase, ‘readiness’ (or not) of the global partners for large-scale epidemics has been the focus of debate. The level of functioning of the health system with regard to ability to continue to provide high-quality effective routine care needs more attention.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

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  • Handling editor Stephanie Topp

  • Contributors SAJ, NRvdB and CAA designed the study; SAJ and SG oversaw the data collection; SG, NRvdB, SAJ and SW analysed and interpreted the data; all authors wrote the paper.

  • Funding This research was funded by WaterAid through a grant from Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.