Kenya is among six African nations where pregnant women, who were hospitalized with COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa died at higher rates and had more complications compared to the non-pregnant ones with severe coronavirus disease.
The revelations from a study, the largest of its kind looking at this issue in the region, examined the outcomes of 1,315 hospitalized patients in 22 health facilities in Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda in the 13 months to March 2021.
Women with COVID-19, who were pregnant, had a 2.4 times higher risk of needing intensive care a nd a two times higher risk of death compared with other women with the disease who weren’t in the family way.
And among those who were pregnant, women with COVID-19 had five times increased risk of death as compared to those without the disease.
The study also examined issues relevant to comorbidities in the sub-Saharan Africa context. The researchers found that pregnant and non-pregnant women with both COVID-19 and HIV or prior cases of tuberculosis had a nearly two-fold increase in needing intensive care compared to those without.
“Pregnancy itself is an immunocompromising condition, he said. This is why, for example, pregnant women especially need flu vaccines, because they are at a higher risk of complications. Pregnancy itself causes them to be vulnerable,” lead author Jean Nachega, who is an associate professor of infectious diseases, microbiology, and epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health said.
Similarly, prior research found COVID-19 significantly increased the risk of poor maternal and infant outcomes, such as pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, cesarean delivery, and maternal mortality compared to pregnant women without the disease. There were also higher rates of preterm births and stillbirths.
Nachega further said it’s important to conduct studies like this in different contexts rather than extrapolate research globally.
In many contexts within sub-Saharan Africa, health systems are weak and access to care is limited, which can compound the impacts of becoming positive for COVID-19 while pregnant.
“Geographic disparities are important because contexts are different and comorbidities are different. This research should provide a boost to policymakers to increase vaccination rates among pregnant women.”
“It really emphasizes how important it is for pregnant women on the African continent to get vaccinated to prevent high morbidity and mortality,” he said.
Misinformation is a key contributing factor to vaccine hesitancy among pregnant women, he said, including rumors that the vaccines can cause infertility or even harm to the foetus.
One study, published late last year found that only 19 percent of pregnant women in South Africa were willing to receive a COVID-19 jab.
According to the World Health Organization, “increasing evidence on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy suggests that the benefits 0f vaccination during pregnancy outweigh potential risks whenever there is ongoing or anticipated community transmission of the virus.”
Nachega said governments need to recommend the vaccine to pregnant women, which is currently happening in only about 11 African nations.
And these recommendations need to reach health workers working throughout countries.
It’s also key to make vaccinations easy for pregnant women, including making them available at antenatal visits and at community-based pharmacies, he said, these would need to be coupled with campaigns making women feel at ease with taking the vaccines.