As the world continues to grapple with the challenge of fighting a global pandemic, protecting the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and newborn babies, must be of the utmost priority. As we have witnessed during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, women and children are disproportionately affected by disease outbreaks. This particularly applies to Nigeria where utilisation of antenatal care (ANC), skilled birth attendance and immunisation have already dropped by half or more . Recent studies show that these service disruptions in Nigeria could increase child mortality by 18 percent and maternal mortality by 9 percent over the next year.
All too often we can get caught up in these sheer numbers and forget that there are people behind these numbers and families who have suffered an unimaginable loss. We owe it to these people to learn from their deaths and prevent any future losses from occurring in the same way.
During a health crisis, such as COVID-19 or Ebola, fragile health systems struggle to manage both the response to the pandemic whilst also providing essential and routine health services. Although we do not know yet the direct effect of COVID-19 on maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH), we do know that it is vital that critical health services are still available for women and their babies during this time.
In order to spot problems and amend services to save lives, we need to consistently collect data and compare the information from prior to a public health crisis with the current data. One vital mechanism that supports a data-informed response to strengthening services for mothers and newborns is Maternal and Perinatal Death Surveillance and Response (MPDSR) system.
MPDSR requires health facilities and communities to report all maternal, perinatal, and neonatal deaths. MPDSR data can help to examine causes of death and identification of where the quality of care and access to health services need to be improved. This allows government and health facilities to identify solutions to help prevent future deaths.
The Evidence for Action (E4A) Mama-Ye project works to catalyse change by bringing together groups, including government, civil society and health practitioners to use existing information and resources to identify why women and babies are dying and advocate for changes. A key data source our colleagues use in their advocacy for improved access to quality health services is the MPDSR system. In Niger State in Nigeria, we have partnered with the Niger State Ministry of Health to improve the quality of health services for women and children by strengthening MPDSR implementation. A key component of our support is the training of MPDSR committee members across 23 secondary health facilities. These committees are then supported to take action to ensure mothers and newborns receive the services they need.
As we all work together to ensure that the world responds quickly and appropriately to the COVID-19 pandemic, data sources such as MPDSR are vital to ensuring that deaths are prevented and that no one loses their mother or child because of causes that can easily be prevented.
 Sochas L, Channon AR. & Nam SL. (2017): Counting indirect crisis-related deaths in the context of a low-resilience health system: the case of maternal and neonatal health during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone. Health Policy and Planning, Volume 32, Issue suppl_3, 1 November 2017, Pages iii32– iii39, https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czx108, accessed 08 December 2017
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kN0DWFH3wI PTF on COVID-19 Press Briefing 14th May 2020 (last accessed: 15th May 2020)
 Global Financing Facility. Preserve essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigeria. https://www.globalfinancingfacility.org/sites/gff_new/files/documents/Nigeria-Covid-Brief_GFF.pdf (last accessed: 18th May 2020)