Little is known about how pregnant refugee women, and the frontline health care workers who serve them, are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of health, and health service access. Women refugees are classified as a vulnerable group with regard to pregnancy outcomes and access to maternal care and may be disproportionally at risk for COVID-19 infection as they are likely to face unique barriers to information and access to reproductive health services during the pandemic. Few studies identify gaps that could inform potential interventions to improve service uptake for refugee women, particularly in the context of COVID-19. Yet, understanding how pregnant refugees are impacted in the context of the pandemic is critical to developing and implementing strategies and measures that can help in their care and the delivery of health services.
This study aimed to improve understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on women refugees’ access to and utilisation of antenatal care, delivery, and postnatal care in Eastleigh, Kenya.
The study was conducted in Eastleigh, a semi-urban centre in Nairobi. We conducted 25 in-depth interviews with facility and community health care staff (n = 10) and women attending antenatal (n = 10) and postnatal care services (n = 5) in October 2020. Data was analysed using NVIVO 12 software.
Our findings suggest that within the first eight months of COVID-19, preferences for home deliveries by refugee women increased and health care workers reported having observed reduced utilisation of services and delayed care. Fear, economic challenges and lack of migrant-inclusive health system policies were key factors influencing home deliveries and delayed and low uptake of facility-based care.
The findings highlight the need to mitigate and lower barriers that prevent refugee women from seeking care at health facilities. One approach includes the development of refugee-inclusive public health policies, particularly during a pandemic, and the need to tailor health care services for refugees at facilities and in the communities.