MONROVIA, Liberia – Sedia Mawolo, 38, beams as she cradles her newborn daughter and welcomes a group of well-wishers to her home. She has just been discharged from hospital where she gave birth to a girl, Grace, barely a week after recovering from Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Ms. Mawolo works as a nurse at the country’s largest referral hospital, John F. Kennedy Medical Centre, and is the nation’s first known case of a COVID-19 positive pregnancy. She was 34-35 weeks pregnant with her third child when she discovered she had contracted the virus.

“To be pregnant and find yourself in a Coronavirus ICU is terrible" - Sedia Mawolo, mother

She was quickly taken to the main COVID-19 treatment centre outside Monrovia, where she cried almost every day, fearful that her diagnosis could have repercussions for the baby. “To be pregnant and find yourself in a Corona[virus] ICU is terrible," she says.

After spending two weeks at the centre, Ms. Mawolo made a full recovery. A week later, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

“I feel very accomplished when I hear the cry of my newborn baby,” says Ms. Mawolo. “It is like I visited hell and came back to life. I never imagined that I was going to live and most importantly, deliver a baby that would survive.”

Meeting the needs of pregnant women at COVID-19 maternity care units
Liberia has recorded 681 cases of COVID-19 and 34 fatalities since the pandemic began.

Before the pandemic, only 61 per cent of women in Liberia gave birth in the presence of skilled health worker. Now, many women may find it even harder to access maternal care. When Liberia suffered an Ebola outbreak between 2014 and 2015, overwhelmed hospitals sometimes refused to take in patients, leaving pregnant women to give birth in the street. Many more women avoided the hospital entirely, fearful that they would catch the disease.

“I feel very accomplished when I hear the cry of my newborn baby... It is like I visited hell and came back to life" - Ms. Mawolo

To avoid a similar situation unfolding, the Spotlight Initiative has stepped up efforts to increase women’s and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as reduce the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices.

Key among these efforts is supporting UNFPA to establish a fully equipped maternal and child care unit and operating theatre at Liberia's main COVID-19 treatment hospital outside Monrovia, with plans to replicate this model across the country. The maternity unit opened in June and provides prenatal care, delivery, emergency obstetric care and postnatal care services for pregnant, COVID-19 positive women admitted for treatment.

Additionally, a roving maternity team provides care for pregnant women who are being observed for symptoms at ‘Points of Care’ across Monrovia, as well as those quarantined within the community. The team is comprised of trained midwives and is directly supervised by the Family Health Division at the Ministry of Health.

Story and photo by Calixte S. Hessou/UNFPA Liberia.