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Clarification on Sri Lanka’s maternal mortality situation based on the UNICEF recent report on Direct and Indirect Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and response in South Asia

5 April 2021, Colombo-In March, UNICEF and partners issued a report, The Direct and Indirect Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Response in South Asia. This analysis, commissioned by UNICEF and conducted by the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health, included estimates of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the maternal mortality situation in Sri Lanka.

However, there were media reports that misrepresented the data, leading to inaccurate articles. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka would like to make the following clarifications.

The report provides details of predicted maternal and child deaths in South Asia as a result of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and the first six months of 2021. The study uses a mathematical model to predict the impact on pregnant mothers and children of disruptions in health services caused by the pandemic. The model used available data, made assumptions if data were not available, and looked at the severity of the COVID-19 mitigation response of each country. For Sri Lanka, the model estimated deaths of an additional 20 mothers between January 2020 and June 2021, compared to the same period in 2019.

However, the actual scenario was different in Sri Lanka. Ministry of Health took stringent actions to maintain essential maternal and child health services including services for pregnant women who are infected with COVID, suspected or quarantined amidst the pandemic situation. The country’s well-structured maternal death surveillance response was functioning optimally even during the pandemic and all probable maternal deaths were captured, reviewed and appropriate remedial actions were taken at all levels by the Ministry of Health.

Since the release of the report, more data has been applied to generate updated estimates for Sri Lanka which now shows only one additional maternal death between January 2020 and June 2021 compared to the same period in 2019. This is substantially lower than what was predicted by the original model. It must be reiterated that, like the original estimate, this is a model-based estimate only.

This highlights the concerted efforts by Sri Lanka in mitigating the consequences of the pandemic on pregnant mothers and children. UNICEF and the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka emphasizes the importance of ensuring essential health services for pregnant women, adolescents and young infants remain a topmost priority as Sri Lanka builds back after the pandemic.


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