Ebola’s toll on pregnant women

Treatment and care for women with pregnancy-related issues is incredibly complicated in Ebola stricken nations say medical experts. 

Healthcare workers treating women with pregnancy-related issues in Ebola stricken nations must make particularly difficult decisions, experts expressed Wednesday. According to UN Women, women and girls account for more than 55 percent of reported cases and in some places the statistic reaches upward of 75 percent, representing the disproportionate toll on women.

Dr. Benjamin Black, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology, explained that poor infrastructure and limited access to laboratory services translate to 24 hour delays on the status of Ebola patients. For women and the fetus this could mean death.

Healthcare workers must decide whether a pregnant woman with complications is clear of Ebola and what procedures would be the safest for her and the unborn child expressed experts in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Black explains, “The Ebola virus is attracted to certain types of cells within the body. The placenta happens to have a lot of those cells and invades [those cells] so it can multiply… because of [that] you get a high amount of Ebola virus in the placenta and therefore crossing to the baby.”

A 1995 study of the Ebola outbreak in Congo showed that the majority of pregnant women died from the virus. One reason was because pregnant woman have partially compromised immune systems and are therefore more vulnerable to the virus.

In other cases, women who survive and give birth pass the virus to their newborn. In most cases, the women deliver stillborn. Pregnant women with Ebola are also most likely to experience miscarriages.

However, overall, data on pregnancy outcomes in the current epidemic is relatively scarce said three Public Health England (PHE) authors.

For healthcare workers, childbirth is particularly difficult and they risk infection due to the large quantity of bodily fluids including blood, urine and feces. Black echoed this sentiment, “The decision on whether to isolate a woman or not is potentially a decision between life and death, for both the patient and the health worker.”

Even when pregnant women infected with Ebola are admitted, healthcare workers often decide to focus their limited resources on others. They often consider that pregnant patients are less likely to survive and rank as a lower priority writes, lawyer Anika Rahman.

However, there have been subtle shifts in the treatment and care available to pregnant women in Ebola ridden nations. Recently, Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF), opened the first care center for pregnant women in Sierra Leone. MSF says that the death rate for expectant mothers remains extremely high.

In countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, new Ebola related cases are staggering and most experts predict the pandemic will end by June 2015. – World News, Telesur