Humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders is giving Sierra Leone's most vulnerable Ebola patients a chance at survival, recently opening its first clinic specifically for pregnant women infected with the disease, Reuters reports.
The new facility is located in a former boys' high school in the capital city of Freetown. According to Esperanza Santos, one of the organization's field coordinators, women in general are at an increased risk of catching the deadly disease, as they often care for loved ones who are sick. Pregnant women in particular are more likely to become severely ill and die when infected with Ebola.
"Pregnant women (with Ebola) are a high-risk group so they have less chance than ... the rest of the population," Ms. Santos told Reuters.
Last year, the Ebola virus swept through four countries in West Africa, killing more than 86,000 men, women and children, according to the CDC. While transmission rates appear to be slowing in the hardest-hit nations of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, six out of 10 patients who are currently hospitalized due to the virus are expected to die.
Labor and delivery units are especially vulnerable, the CDC notes, because they present "a high likelihood of exposure to large amounts of blood and body fluids (such as amniotic fluid) in a setting that is less controlled than many other hospital settings."
A key reason for the need for a specialist unit is the risk the women can pose to the health workers treating them; Christian doctor Richard Sacra was among those working in a labor and delivery unit when he contracted Ebola in August.
"Sacra was being very cautious," Dr. John Fankhauser, assistant director of the Monrovian hospital where Sacra worked, told NPR. "But it's also just very risky. What we consider our two riskiest places are the OB ward and the operating room."
Additionally, many women who have gone into labor in Ebola-inflicted areas are denied access to hospitals, as medical staff do not want to expose the woman to patients who have Ebola.
"In countries where maternal mortality rates are so high than almost one out of every hundred women die," notes the Washington Post, "such a lack of treatment can have a deadly impact."
Sierra Leone's first confirmed Ebola case was last May 24, BBC News reports, when a pregnant woman was brought to the public hospital in the eastern town of Kenema from the border district of Kailahun. She miscarried and died, infecting her nurses.