The effects of COVID-19 on pregnancy have been studied in detail in high-income countries
, such as the U.S.
, but studies of similar size and scope are lacking in low- and middle-income countries and non-Western settings. The new findings confirm that pregnant people are at higher risk of complications and death from COVID-19 and, therefore, should be prioritized with other high-risk people for COVID-19 vaccination in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Our findings indicate that hospitalized pregnant women with COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa have two to five times greater risk of needing intensive care and dying than uninfected, hospitalized pregnant women,” said lead author Jean B. Nachega, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology
at Pitt Public Health
. “We must urgently prioritize pregnant women among at-risk populations in COVID-19 vaccine programs in Africa.”
The large study looked at outcomes of over 1,300 female patients of child-bearing age who were hospitalized between March 2020 and March 2021 in one of six countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. Specifically, this study looked at three categories: pregnant women with COVID-19, non-pregnant women with COVID-19 and pregnant women without COVID-19.
Researchers found that the rates of intensive care unit (ICU) admission and use of supplemental oxygen were at least two-fold higher and the death toll increased five-fold in the pregnant women with SARS-CoV-2.
Sub-Saharan Africa also has higher rates of tuberculosis (TB)
than the U.S., and published studies on COVID-19 among people with these chronic infections have had conflicting results
, so the team also investigated the impact of these infections on their study population. Among the participants, both pregnant and non-pregnant women with HIV or a prior history of TB had a two-fold increased risk of ICU admission.
“COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and low vaccine uptake in pregnancy include misinformation and disinformation promoted on social media and other platforms, which mislead the public about side effects, such as infertility and potential fetal harm,” Nachega said. “Along with devoting resources to promoting vaccination, we must also work to stop the spread of misinformation.”
PHOTO DETAILS: (click images for high-res versions)
CREDIT: University of Pittsburgh
CAPTION: Jean B. Nachega, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.
CAPTION: John W. Mellors, M.D.