New Lancet Commentary Makes Link Between Ebola and Women’s Health

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By: Katie Millar, Technical Writer, Women and Health Initiative, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

The Ebola epidemic that is currently ravaging Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has devastated these nations and their health systems. While Ebola’s destruction has reached far beyond the health system into other critical sectors, it is without a doubt women and their children who are suffering the greatest burden of this disease and its effects.

Today, The Lancet published a commentary that describes the socioeconomic, biologic and health systems connections between women’s health and the current Ebola epidemic. Ana Langer, Director of the MTHF, joined with her colleagues at ISGlobal and the Centro de Investigação em Saúde de Manhiça to author the paper, which describes the reasons why the majority of those infected with Ebola are women and how the outbreak has increased the obstacles women face in accessing the health system. The authors expound:

First, the worsening of suboptimal access to reproductive and maternal health care in the Ebola crisis countries is posing a major threat to the lives of mothers and infants. Second, women are the primary caregivers in their homes, communities, and health facilities and, as such, assist most infected individuals, which puts them at an increased risk of contracting the virus. Moreover, traditional burial practices, typically performed by women, can also place them at higher risk. Finally, there is evidence of sexual transmission of Ebola after individuals recover from the infection. Since women have little control over sexual behaviour including abstinence or protected sex, this represents an additional source of increased exposure to the virus.

Lastly, critical advances in women’s and maternal health care in these countries over recent years has been ravaged by the outbreak. Addressing the current outbreak is critical, but maintaining a focus on strengthening these health systems beyond the outbreak will be critical for ensuring and protecting maternal and child health.

Making long-term investments to ensure appropriate care for women and children’s health under normal circumstances and in future crises that will inevitably occur is an ethical and public health imperative that global and national health communities need to embrace urgently. Acting effectively now is a prerequisite to ending the preventable deaths of mothers and children in these settings.

The commentary provides many more details about the important connection between Ebola and women’s health. You can find the commentary through The Lancet Global Health.