Nowhere to Go: The Challenges of Caring for Pregnant Women in Freetown During Sierra Leone’s Ebola Virus Epidemic

  • Gillian Burkhardt
  • Elin Erland
  • Patricia Kahn
Part of the Global Maternal and Child Health book series (GMCH)


One of the 11 Ebola Treatment Centers built and operated by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) during the West Africa outbreak was the first of its kind: a Maternity Ebola Treatment Center (METC). Staffed with trained midwives, nurses, and obstetricians/gynecologists, the METC was established to provide Basic Emergency Obstetric Care (although not surgery) to pregnant women with confirmed Ebola virus disease and to those suffering from pregnancy complications that symptomatically overlapped with Ebola, who could not be admitted to any health care facility without two negative Ebola tests 48 hours apart.

This chapter describes the experiences of two coauthors, an obstetrician/gynecologist and a midwife, as frontline medical workers at the METC during the later phase of the outbreak. It also portrays how the MSF team navigated the challenges of balancing both sides of the ‘safety versus rapid access to care’ dilemma, especially in caring for pregnant women suspected of having Ebola. Lastly, through this lens, it addresses some broader consequences of the Ebola epidemic on maternal health in Sierra Leone.


Ebola Pregnancy Pregnancy complications Maternal mortality Maternal Ebola Treatment Center Sierra Leone Doctors Without Borders Médecins Sans Frontières 



We would like to thank Patricia Lledo and Olimpia de la Rosa, who managed MSF-Spain’s maternal health response during the epidemic and who provided us with tireless support both while working at the METC and in the writing of this chapter. Additional thanks also go to Sonia Guinovart and Severine Caluwaerts for their insightful comments to this chapter and to Michelle Olakkengil and Eleonora D’Amore for expert editorial assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gillian Burkhardt
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elin Erland
    • 1
    • 3
  • Patricia Kahn
    • 4
  1. 1.Médecins Sans Frontières (Operational Center Barcelona)FreetownSierra Leone
  2. 2.Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  3. 3.Telemark HospitalSkienNorway
  4. 4.Médecins Sans Frontières USANew YorkUSA

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