A new report reveals that women and girls from low-income backgrounds in five African countries faced multiple barriers to accessing Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study also sought to examine how healthcare providers, women, girls, and sexual minorities in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda responded to offering and seeking services at the height of the pandemic.
These vulnerable groups often experienced limited access to contraceptives, antenatal care, abortion care, HIV/AIDS prevention, and management.
Based on interviews with 3473 women and girls, and 446 health providers, the study showed that care-seeking was often delayed, or postponed, while others reportedly stopped altogether.
The report, Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Sexual, and Reproductive Health Services in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda, further reveals the pandemic resulted in a spike in unintended pregnancies, increased sexual and Gender-Based Violence, unsafe abortions and harrowing maternal and neonatal deaths.
Additionally, sexual minorities- including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community- and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) experienced challenges in accessing reproductive healthcare.
The study attributes the poor reproductive health outcomes to government policies that failed to strike a delicate balance between containing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing the reproductive health needs, and priorities of women, girls, and sexual minorities.
Most health facilities closed, others were converted to isolation and treatment centres and healthcare providers were often redeployed to COVID-19 units and reproductive health supplies were deprioritized.
The study has made several recommendations.
Evelyne Opondo, Senior Regional Director for Africa, Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR)said: “At all times reproductive health services remain essential. The rights of entire populations to access sexual reproductive health services including during the pandemic remain a key responsibility of every government. Governments must accord the highest protection of reproductive rights for women, girls and sexual minorities.”
Boniface Ushie (PhD), Research Scientist at African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), said: “Government policies in response to health emergencies must be continuously reviewed to ensure they effectively respond to evolving trends and developments.”
Victor Rasugu, Executive Director, Network for Adolescent and Youth of Africa (NAYA)said: “With fears that COVID-19 might become endemic, we can no longer afford to ignore essential interventions in other aspects of healthcare. Local and national governments must strengthen community health outreach to enhance adolescents and youth access to reproductive health information and services.”
Achieng Akumu, Esq. Africa Regional Director, Planned Parenthood Global (PPG)said: “Governments must supply private health facilities with reproductive health commodities to adequately serve the vulnerable women, girls and sexual minorities.”
Nelly Munyasia, Executive Director of Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK) said: “Governments must institutionalize inclusive, client-friendly training and sensitization of health providers to ensure effective service delivery in the wake of pandemics.”
Dr. Ernest Nyamato, Global Associate Director, Quality of Care at Ipassaid: “Healthcare providers must be supplied with personal protective equipment (PPEs) to cushion them from the pandemic and psychological stress emanating from operating in such crisis contexts.”
Dr. Shiphrah Kuria, Reproductive Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Expert at Amref Health Africa said: “Governments must adopt holistic responses and recovery strategies that access impacts of pandemics in different socioeconomic sectors.”
Article first published on https://www.kbc.co.ke/covid-19-poor-policies-attributed-to-spike-in-unintended-pregnancies/