With the outbreak of COVID 19, an impact on millions of people has been estimated by global authorities, the focus of the global healthcare system is on containing the spread of this deadly virus and providing care to those who have been infected. As result programs targeted towards the sexual and reproductive health of women and family planning are being increasingly ignored. The health workers previously involved in these programs have been rerouted to battle the novel coronavirus leaving many without access to family planning services and contraception.
In another story on COVID-19, we reported our analysis on how COVID-19 will be imposing a rise in global population and violence against women.
Due to the pandemic, the successes in increasing access to contraceptives have lost their momentum. This has occurred as the lockdown imposed by governments to stop the spread of the virus has led to seizing essential healthcare facilities after being deemed a non-priority in the current times. Furthermore, women don’t want to visit these health facilities due to the risk of exposure to the virus. According to experts, the suspension of population control programs could have serious consequences in the long term as pregnancy rates rise.
For example, The National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN), Indonesia has estimated that “a one-month decline in contraceptive use in Indonesia could increase pregnancies by 15%, resulting in around 42,000 pregnancies, within one to three months. If people continue to lack access to contraception, pregnancies could increase by as much as 30%, resulting in more than 800,000 pregnancies, within another few months.”
Scarce contraceptives on a global scale have also compounded the problem further. This is because of the disruption in the supply chain of contraceptives since they were mostly produced in China, where until recently there was a complete lockdown.
Even with the lockdown having been lifted and factories producing these contraceptives functional again, the supply problems still linger. The reason is the shift of production lines to the manufacturing of masks and other personal protective equipment. The shortage of contraceptives that the shift has caused can have serious consequences later on as the death toll and economic burden due to unwanted pregnancies rises.
According to Joanna Skinner, the family planning and technical lead of Breakthrough ACTION by John Hopkin’s Center for Communication Programs “Family planning is a lifesaving intervention and we need to protect that service in order to avoid increased morbidity and mortality resulting from unintended pregnancies.”
International Perspectives on Health and Reproductive Health, published a piece according to which there was an estimated 10% decline in the use of contraceptives in low and middle-income countries due to lack of access. As per estimates, this would lead to 49 million women with an unmet need for contraceptives over a year.
As the lack of access to family planning services can seriously impact healthcare and economies in the long run, governments are urged to consider these services as essential and ensure their availability. WHO has already highlighted the need for continued access to effective contraception and family planning and has published a set of Q and As on Contraception/Family Planning and COVID 19. This will address the questions of policymakers, healthcare workers and individuals.
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