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Continued risk to maternal health as Liberia declared Ebola-free, WaterAid warns

14 Jan 2016

As Liberia is once again declared Ebola-free, WaterAid urges further action on the region’s healthcare systems which were crippled by the outbreak, with devastating impact on maternal and newborn mortality rates. 

“Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are now experiencing development in reverse. These countries were already among the poorest in the world and had already endured the bitter legacy of brutal conflicts; the Ebola epidemic has now rolled back years of hard-won socio-economic gains,” said WaterAid's Director of Global Policy and Campaigns, Margaret Batty, following a recent trip to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“These are traumatised people and nations – and the recovery phase requires intense and sustained international support, in the form of health system strengthening, and support for basic and essential services including water, sanitation and hygiene, and much more.”

The World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola-free on 14 January 2016. Sierra Leone was declared free of Ebola on 7 November 2015, and Guinea on 29 December 2015.

A total of 512 healthcare workers died from the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea between June 2014 and August 2015. The loss of these healthcare workers combined with the stigma that became attached to health centres has led to serious concerns about a rise in the deaths of new mothers and their newborns.  

According to a recent World Bank report such losses may result in a sharp rise in maternal mortality, last seen 20 years ago.

The figures are backed up by a study conducted by WaterAid and VSO which found that there was a 30% increase in maternal deaths in Sierra Leone during the height of the Ebola outbreak, (between May 2014 and April 2015) and a 24% increase in newborn deaths, because women were reluctant to access prenatal care for fear of contracting the virus.

Even prior to Ebola, Sierra Leone was already one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth. In 2013, one woman in every 21 would in their lifetimes lose a baby to infection in its first month – in the UK, this risk is one woman in 7,518. The Ebola outbreak is thought to have made this alarming statistic worse.

WaterAid is now calling on world leaders and the governments of the affected countries to recognise that in order to rebuild confidence in the country’s broken healthcare system, ‘clean’ must be put at the heart of healthcare. An estimated 38% of healthcare facilities in Sierra Leone don’t have access to water and in Liberia 20% have no access. To reduce the risk of maternal mortality every healthcare facility must be provided with water, sanitation and rigorous infection control training for healthcare workers.

Every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment. This winter WaterAid’s Deliver Life appeal wants to reach 130,000 mothers and their families around the world with safe water. Every £1 donated by the UK public will be doubled by the UK Government until 10th February 2016.

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For more information or to arrange interviews please contact Jo Lehmann, media officer, on JoLehmann@wateraid.org or +44 (0)207 793 4909, or Carolynne Wheeler, news manager, on CarolynneWheeler@wateraid.org or +44 (0)207 793 4485, or Fiona Callister, media relations lead, on FionaCallister@wateraid.org or +44 (0)207 793 5022. Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email pressoffice@wateraid.org

Notes to editors:

About WaterAid

WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation.  The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities.  Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation.  For more information, visit www.wateraid.org, follow @WaterAidUK on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • Around 315,000 children die each year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That’s nearly 900 children each day, or one child every two minutes.
  • Over 650 million people (around one in ten) are without safe water
  • Over 2.3 billion people (around one in three) live without improved sanitation
  • For every £1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of £4 is returned in increased productivity.
  • Just £15 can help provide one person with access to safe water.