The pandemic has been the most catastrophic public health crisis in a century—giving rise to formidable socio-economic challenges amid fears of mortality. In a new study released on April 27, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has found that the number of women unable to access family planning services, facing unintended pregnancies and other harmful practices like gender-related violence and genital mutilation could rise at a tremendous rate—with millions of new cases—in the coming months, as the pandemic continues.
While governments are busy taking measures to curb the spread of the virus, there rises a humanitarian crisis of the loss of essential sexual and reproductive health services. 47 million women in 114 low and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives and 7 million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur if the lockdown carries on for six months with major disruption to health services, says the study by this UN sexual and reproductive health agency in collaboration with partners Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University and Victoria University. For every three months the lockdown continues, up to as many as an additional 2 million women may be unable to use modern contraceptives.
The research also reveals the disastrous impact of the lockdown on women with limited health facilities and preoccupied clinical staff. Moreover, it says, women might refrain from going to the hospital for check-ups due to a fear of the virus. Adding to that, disruptions in the supply chain of contraceptives are also limiting its availability so women may be unable to use their preferred method of contraception—and may instead opt for a less effective method or even discontinue contraceptive use directly.
“This new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally,” said Dr Natalia Kanem, the UNFPA Executive Director in their press release. “The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health.”
While a lot is still unknown about the pandemic, projections predict the worsening of the existing gender and social inequalities. The same study also talks about how the situation is going to have a ‘calamitous impact’ on increasing gender-related violence, child marriage, and female genital mutilation.
“Women’s reproductive health and rights must be safeguarded at all costs. The services must continue; the supplies must be delivered; the vulnerable must be protected and supported," added Kanem. In another study released at the beginning of the month, UNFPA found that approximately a quarter of women cannot refuse sex or make their own decisions about accessing proper health care.
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