Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries

by Friends of UNFPA, Inc
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries
Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries

Since early 2015, Friends of UNFPA’s Global Giving project, “Make Motherhood Safe in Ebola-affected Countries” has helped UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, rebuild health systems throughout West Africa that were devastated by the outbreak. With help from generous supporters like you, health systems are now on the road to recovery and are better situated to face future public health emergencies. With the outbreak declared officially over in January 2016 by the World Health Organization, UNFPA’s work in the region will now focus on broader reproductive health needs.


With the Ebola outbreak disrupting the delivery of basic healthcare services in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone it was necessary for international agencies like UNFPA to not only work to end the outbreak, but to also re-establish health systems in order to meet the basic needs of surrounding populations. In Liberia for example, more than 50 percent of health facilities, including those that provided antenatal care services to pregnant women, closed following the highpoint of the crisis in the summer of 2014, leaving women without anywhere to turn to deliver safely.

While the Ebola virus continued to spread, funds raised enabled UNFPA to further its work in contact tracing, the process in which trained select community members located each person that was in contact with an infected individual. UNFPA’s contact tracing helped stop the spread of the virus in order for the rebuilding stage to begin.

As UNFPA worked to rebuild the region’s health systems with a particular focus on maternal health, its broader goal was to develop the region’s resilience to disasters and disease outbreaks. By investing in the healthcare workforce, building confidence in facilities in surrounding communities, integrating traditional caregivers into the larger system, and communicating on the importance of facility-based care and delivery, UNFPA helped rehabilitate the healthcare system and prepared it to better handle the next disaster or outbreak.

As a result of UNFPA’s work, the region has witnessed increases in prenatal check-ups, the use of modern contraceptives, and facility-based deliveries. Specifically, in Bomi County, Liberia, so far in 2016 there have been 528 facility-based births, nearly 5,000 users of modern contraceptives, and over 3,000 prenatal care visits conducted.

Project Conclusion:

Since the World Health Organization declared the end of the Ebola outbreak in January 2016, it is necessary for UNFPA Country Offices in West Africa to resume core activities geared toward improving access to sexual and reproductive healthcare for women and girls. Specific projects now ongoing in the region include reducing instances of teenage pregnancy through prevention education, centered in schools, via media and other forms of healthcare information dissemination.

Additional Opportunities:

While Friends of UNFPA is concluding Ebola-related fundraising, there are additional opportunities on Global Giving to support UNFPA’s ongoing work to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe, and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.

Thank you for your support of this project. With your help, UNFPA has been able to provide health and dignity to the women and girls affected by the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

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UNFPA training on supply distribution
UNFPA training on supply distribution

In the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, UNFPA’s focus is now on helping the region’s health systems fully recover and become more resilient so they are better prepared for future outbreaks or crises. Most importantly, UNFPA is working with communities throughout the region to re-establish confidence in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

As a result of the Ebola outbreak, fewer women have been seeking facility-based healthcare for pre-natal treatment and check-ups as well as for deliveries. Throughout the outbreak, pregnant women were either turned away or stayed away from hospitals out of fear of contracting the virus. UNFPA is working with its partners to demonstrate to women that they can return to hospitals for the care they need, especially for pregnancy and childbirth.

By employing traditional midwives to build awareness of the benefits and availability of facility-based care, UNFPA is working to reduce maternal and newborn deaths to pre-Ebola levels and beyond. According to the World Bank, the maternal mortality rate in Liberia alone is projected to increase by 111 percent.

Through regular meetings with traditional caregivers, UNFPA is reinforcing the importance of referring pregnant women for facility-based care and delivery, where infections and illnesses can be treated and complications during delivery can be addressed.  

During monthly meetings, UNFPA provides traditional caregivers with refresher training on topics such as warning signs during pregnancy, the importance of facility deliveries, care for newborns, family planning and its benefits, the prevention of Malaria in pregnancy, the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, and the dangers of delivering without the supervision of a skilled caregiver.

In between meetings, traditional caregivers, who have developed relationships with communities and individuals, explain the benefits of facility-based care and child delivery to women and families. By spreading this message, UNFPA is working to reverse the impact of the Ebola outbreak by improving access to maternal health services.

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Facility-based childbirth has increased.
Facility-based childbirth has increased.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak has overwhelmed health systems and decimated the health care workforce. In Liberia alone, 8 percent of doctors, nurses, and midwives died from the disease by May 2015. In addition to fewer caregivers, the provision of maternal care declined as well, as some remaining professionals turned away pregnant woman at hospitals out of fear they would contract the disease from them. The amount of blood loss during childbirth increases the chances of disease transmission. “No healthcare worker wanted to touch a pregnant woman even with personal protective gear,” said Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah, the Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director of Hope for Women International, a UNFPA partner. The rate of pregnant women in Liberia completing at least four prenatal visits during their pregnancies declined from a high of 65 percent in 2013 to only 40 percent by August2014.

The impact of the Ebola crisis and its impact on maternal health care will be felt throughout the region for years to come. According to a recent World Bank report, the loss of health workers in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone may result in an additional 4,022 deaths of women each year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Maternal mortality could increase by 38 percent in Guinea, 74 percent in Sierra Leone, and 111 percent in Liberia.

To truly recover from the outbreak, pregnant women must now be convinced to return to facility-based and professional health care. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is working with national and community partners to do this.

In one of the hardest hit areas – Bomi County, Liberia – UNFPA has increased the number of women receiving prenatal care, the number of facility-based deliveries, and the number of women referred or accompanied by traditional birth attendants to health facilities. By working with traditional caregivers, UNFPA has reached within communities to inform women of the importance of receiving professional care throughout their pregnancies and for their childbirths. 

Within a seven month time frame, from December 2014 to June 2015, facility-based deliveries increased in Bomi County to an average of 74 from a baseline of 35 per month.  Over the same period of time, 3,303 pregnant women attended prenatal care visits, an increase of 472 women per month on average.

Throughout the country, UNFPA is encouraging retired midwives to return to the workforce. “With this effort,” said Woseh Gobeh, the national program officer for UNFPA, “health facility-based deliveries have increased from an average of from 6 to 10 monthly to between 30 and 40 monthly in only two months.”

“I give credit to Liberia and the international community for winning against Ebola in a relatively short period of time,” Gobeh continued. But, she added, now, “The most important responsibility and appeal to the government of Liberia, the donor community and all partners is that the need to rebuild the health care delivery system is now greater than ever.”

Woman and children assisted by UNFPA after Ebola
Woman and children assisted by UNFPA after Ebola


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UNFPA has launched a condom campaign after Ebola
UNFPA has launched a condom campaign after Ebola

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, continues to work with international, national, and local partners to rebuild health systems devastated by the Ebola outbreak in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. 

In July, UNFPA began work with regional partners to address issues that transcend national boundaries related to maternal health, including access to skilled birth attendants, family planning, adolescent sexual reproductive health, obstetric fistula, and HIV/AIDS services.

UNFPA has continued to recruit and deploy midwives to health facilities and has supplied delivery beds, examination tables and infection prevention and control materials across the region. Particular attention has been paid to Grand Cape Mount County in Liberia, which borders Sierra Leone and was one of the hardest hit counties. With a population of about 127,000, the county has only 33 health facilities and 22 midwives. UNFPA is also working with traditional birth attendants to integrate them into health facilities in order to bolster health care workforces.

UNFPA also launched a campaign aiming to reach 1.5 million people to enable access to condoms and related information. Because the Ebola virus can be sexually transmitted many months after the onset of symptoms, condom use is strongly recommended to prevent spread of the disease.  The UNFPA campaign emphasizes the role of condoms in preventing sexually transmitted infections, including Ebola and HIV, and in preventing unintended pregnancies. 

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A woman and her baby rest at a UNFPA clinic
A woman and her baby rest at a UNFPA clinic

In 2014, the Ebola Virus infected over 10,000 people in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Millions more were affected. 1.1 million pregnant women were cut off from essential maternal health services. Overwhelmed by the virus, strained health systems became unable to provide reproductive health care.

UNFPA helped limit the spread of the virus through the process of contact tracing. By training community professionals to locate each person who came in contact with an infected patient, UNFPA was able to refer at-risk people to necessary testing and care. UNFPA also provided drugs, equipment and other support to health facilities throughout the region.

The outbreak is slowing down, but health systems remain disrupted. Too few women deliver under the care of skilled birth attendants, such as doctors or midwives, and many health centers lack electricity and running water. UNFPA is working with partners to improve women’s access to antenatal care, safe delivery services and postpartum care in the aftermath of the crisis.

In Liberia, UNFPA and partners distributed 2,000 solar-powered lights to health facilities throughout the country. In facilities without electricity, the lights help health workers safely deliver babies at night; previously, staff had to rely on flashlights or candlelight. “We are now able to conduct safe deliveries at night with less worry about illumination,” said Patricia Wilson, the maternal and child health supervisor at Fish Town Hospital, in River Gee County, Liberia.

During the outbreak, many pregnant women turned to traditional birth attendants for care. UNFPA has now trained many of those attendants to promote facilities-based deliveries and care so women can be adequately treated if childbirth complications arise. As a result, in Bomi county Liberia alone, facilities-based deliveries increased from 61 percent to 74 percent within the months following the outbreak.

More work is still needed to ensure the reproductive health needs of women and girls throughout the region are being met. Currently, UNFPA is working to recruit and train 500 midwives, doctors, and health workers. We are grateful for your partnership in supporting UNFPA’s efforts in West Africa to decrease maternal mortality rates and improve access to family planning in the wake of the Ebola outbreak. With your continued commitment we can ensure that women who give life don’t have to risk their own.


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Organization Information

Friends of UNFPA, Inc

Location: New York, NY - USA
Project Leader:
Olivia Ryan
New York, NY United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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