Barriers and facilitators of access to maternal, newborn and child health services during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria: Findings from a qualitative study

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: COVID-19 pandemic may have affected the utilization of maternal and newborn child health services in Nigeria but the extent, directions, contextual factors at all the levels of healthcare service delivery in Nigeria is yet to be fully explored. The objective of the study was to explore the barriers and facilitators of access to MNCH services during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. Methods: A qualitative study was conducted among different stakeholder groups in 18 public health facilities in Nigeria between May and July,2020. In-depth interviews were conducted among 54 study participants (service users, service providers and policymakers) selected from across the three tiers of public health service delivery system in Nigeria (primary health centers, secondary health centers and tertiary health centers). Coding of the qualitative data and identification of themes from the transcripts were carried out and thematic approach was used for data analyses. Results: Barriers to accessing MNCH services during the first wave of COVID-19-pandemic in Nigeria include fear of contracting COVID-19 infection at health facilities, transportation difficulties, stigmatization of sick persons, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) /medical commodities, long waiting times at hospitals, shortage of manpower, lack of preparedness by health workers, and prioritization of essential services. Enablers to access include the COVID-19 non-pharmacological measures instituted at the health facilities, community sensitization on healthcare access during the pandemic, and alternative strategies for administering immunization service at the clinics. Conclusion: Access to MNCH services were negatively affected by lockdown during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria particularly due to challenges resulting from restrictions in movements which affected patients/healthcare providers ability to reach the hospitals as well as patients’ ability to pay for health care services. Additionally, there was fear of contracting COVID-19 infection at health facilities and the health systems inability to provide enabling conditions for sustained utilization of MNCH services. There is need for government to institute alternative measures to halt the spread of diseases instead of lockdowns so as to ensure unhindered access to MNCH services during future pandemics. This may include immediate sensitization of the general public on modes of transmission of any emergent infectious disease as well as training of health workers on emergency preparedness and alternative service delivery models.