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The Effect of Ebola Virus Disease on Maternal and Child Health Services and Child Mortality in Sierra Leone, 2014–2015: Implications for COVID-19

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  • 1 UNICEF Niger, Niamey, Niger;
  • | 2 UNICEF East and Southern African Regional Office, Nairobi, Kenya;
  • | 3 Department of Population and Family Health, Columbia University, New York, New York;
  • | 4 Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Freetown, Sierra Leone;
  • | 5 UNICEF Headquarters, New York, New York

ABSTRACT

During Sierra Leone’s 2014–2015 Ebola virus disease (EVD) epidemic, early reports warned of health system collapse and potential effects on other-cause mortality. These same warnings are reverberating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consideration of the impacts of EVD on maternal and child health services from facility data can be instructive during COVID-19. We surveyed all peripheral healthcare units (PHUs) in Sierra Leone in October 2014 and March 2015 to assess closures, staffing, amenities, medicines, supplies, and service utilization during May 2014–January 2015 and October 2013–January 2014. We report PHU characteristics and service utilization changes for equivalent 4-month periods during the epidemic and the prior year. We present utilization changes by district and service type, and model excess child mortality. PHU closures (−8%) and staff attrition (−3%) were limited, but many facilities lacked amenities, medicines, and supplies. Utilization of preventive and scheduled services fell more than individualized, clinical care interventions, aside from malaria treatment which declined significantly. Ebola virus disease intensity in districts was weakly associated with utilization, aside from two districts that were severely affected. Modeling suggests utilization declines resulted in 6,782 excess under-five deaths (an increase of 21%) between 2014 and 2015. Ebola virus disease negatively affected service provision, but utilization declined relatively more, particularly for preventive and scheduled interventions. Although these findings are specific to Sierra Leone’s EVD epidemic, they illustrate the magnitude of possible effects in other settings due to COVID-19–induced service disruptions, where collateral impacts on child mortality from other preventable causes may far outweigh COVID-19 mortality.

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Author Notes

Address correspondence to Alyssa B. Sharkey, UNICEF New York, Three United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017. E-mail: asharkey@unicef.org

Financial support: This work was supported by the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and UNICEF Sierra Leone.

Authors’ addresses: Thi Minh-Phuong Ngo, UNICEF Niger, Niamey, Niger, E-mail: tmpngo@unicef.org. Braeden Rogers and Rajesh Patnaik, UNICEF East and Southern African Regional Office, Nairobi, Kenya, E-mails: brogers@unicef.org and rpatnaik@unicef.org. Amara Jambai, Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Freetown, Sierra Leone, E-mail: amarajambai@yahoo.com. Alyssa B. Sharkey, UNICEF New York, New York, NY, E-mail: asharkey@unicef.org.

These authors contributed equally to this work.

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