World Population Day 2020: How COVID-19 pandemic disrupted sexual and reproductive health services for women
According to a UNFPA report, around 7 million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur if the COVID-19 lockdown carries on for six months and there are major disruptions to health services
Every year since 1989, 11 July has been marked as World Population Day by the United Nations — a day to address the ever-growing human population on earth, and the issues related to this population growth. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), this year’s theme is “Putting the brakes on COVID-19: How to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls now”.
Why women’s health needs additional focus now
If you’re wondering why this theme and why now, it’s simply because the COVID-19 pandemic — while affecting millions across the world — does not affect everyone equally. Even in regular circumstances, women’s health issues have a tendency to get sidelined. This is why the UN, other organisations and governments run awareness and support programmes.
The pandemic has not just disrupted regular sexual and reproductive health services promised to women all over the world, but also interrupted UN- and government-led programmes promoting women’s health issues.
A recent UNFPA report expects the transformative targets it has been working towards, according to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to get delayed.
This is the reason why ensuring that women and girls have access to their sexual and reproductive health rights during the pandemic is very important, and every nation, community and individual needs to focus on providing support in the following key areas.
Women and girls need contraceptives not just for family planning and to avoid unintended pregnancies, but also to treat conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids, endometriosis, etc.
The UNFPA report estimates that 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptive methods.
An additional two million women may not be able to get contraceptives if lockdowns and disrupted services continue beyond six months in such countries.
2. Family planning
“Not only is access to family planning a human right, but it saves lives and promotes healthier populations, more efficient health systems and stronger economies,” the UNFPA report states.
It also mentions that around seven million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur if the lockdown carries on for six months and there are major disruptions to health services.
Even in countries like India, where medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) has been legal and a part of women’s gender and reproductive rights since 1971, women might not be able to access clinics and hospitals for the fear of COVID-19 infection. That this will lead to an unexpected rise in global populations and all the socio-economic, healthcare and environmental concerns that come with it is undoubted.
3. Domestic violence
Intimate partner violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of women. The UNFPA expects a rise in both numbers and levels of domestic violence across the world, with an estimated increase of two million cases in 2020-2021.
If prevention programmes are unable to meet with the demands of this increase — which is highly likely during COVID-19 lockdowns and restricted movement norms — it could mean “almost 200 million fewer cases of violence being averted by 2030” as per the report.
4. Maternal healthcare
Maternal and newborn health, while a top priority for most countries including India, is also expected to suffer immensely due to the pandemic. Visits to the obstetrician for antenatal care appointments are affected by the fears of contracting COVID-19 at hospitals, and this might also affect hospital births — which is considered to be the safest setting for childbirth and postnatal care. A study in The Lancet in May 2020 estimates that these disruptions in maternal healthcare are likely to increase maternal mortality as well as under-five-years-old infant mortality in low- and middle-income countries.
For more information, read our articles on Women’s Health.
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