|Millions of women, particularly in Africa and Asia, are now out of reach of birth control and other reproductive and sexual health needs during a lockdown. / Photo by GBALLGIGGSPHOTO via Shutterstock|
Millions of women, particularly in Africa and Asia, are now out of reach of birth control and other reproductive and sexual health needs during a lockdown. While they are confined with their husbands or partners, these women face unwanted pregnancies. They are unsure when the family planning services will return, according to American weekly magazine Time.
Lack of access to birth control due to lockdowns
International non-governmental organization providing contraception Marie Stopes International’s Zimbabwe country director Abebe Shibru said that women “have to lock down their uterus” but there is no way to do that in rural areas. The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares that 18 countries in Africa have already implemented national lockdowns. Only essential workers or people seeking healthcare and food can go out and the rest must stay home for weeks or more, depending on the extension of lockdown.
Even in countries where family planning services are still available, providers said women are afraid of going out as they may be accused of defying the restrictions and be disciplined by the security forces. On the other hand, most of the family planning outreach services meant to bring health services closer to the community have also stopped to avoid attracting a crowd to slow the spread of the virus.
In another report by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a nonprofit that advocates the rights of individuals to make their own choices in family planning, it says that more than one in five member clinics (more than 5,000 clinics) in the 64 countries has closed due to Covid-19-related restrictions. Most of these clinics are found in Africa and South Asia and hundreds are found in Europe and Latin America.
IPPF members said they had to lessen their gender-based violence response work and HIV testing and are now facing a contraceptive shortage. Doctors warned that a shortage of birth control can lead to risks of unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
IPPF director-general Alvaro Bermejo said in a statement that these are “needs that cannot wait” and has requested help from the national government to provide women with protective equipment.
While 922 million women of reproductive age (or their partners) were contraceptive users in 2019, 190 million ofr10% of them had an unmet need for family planning. These equate to 190 million women in the world who wanted to avoid pregnancy but were not using any contraceptive method. In the same estimate of women in their reproductive age (15-49), 842 million or 44% use modern methods of contraception, 80 million or 4% use traditional methods, and 790 million or 42% do not need family planning. This is according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
In Africa, the contraceptive method used by 1.0% of women (or their partner) in their reproductive years is female sterilization, 5.8% use pills, 8.4% use injectables, 3.7% rely on implants, 2.6% IUD, 3.8% use male condoms, 1.8% use rhythm, 1.0% use withdrawal, and 1.4% use other methods.
A baby boom in Africa
Data likewise reveals that birth rates in many countries drop as more girls are educated, which means they likely want fewer kids and adopt modern birth control methods compared to uneducated women. Even so, experts predict a baby boom in Africa. They project that the continent’s population of 1.3 billion people will double by 2050.
Marie Stopes’ Shibru, who has more than 20 years of experience in community development and public healthcare programs, said that they already provided family planning services to more than 400,000 women in Zimbabwe last year and averted about 50,000 unsafe abortions. The outreach services of their organization that reach more than 60% of their clients are already suspended and even in clinics that are still open, there is still a reduction of clients by 70%.
As these women’s husbands are no longer working in fields or some other places and are not distracted by sports, for instance, it only means they are quarantined with their wives. This can lead to unintended pregnancies and most may result in domestic violence and unsafe abortions. On the other hand, clinical Psychologist David J. Ley, Ph.D. disagrees with the expectation of a baby boom after the quarantine. He said that people are anxious, frightened, stressed, and worried about their loved ones getting sick, not having a job, their safety, and their mortgage. Not to mention that there are also kids, who are desperate for emotional support from their parents.
Marie Stopes International outreach worker Future Gwena said that their society is paternalistic in the sense that if something is wrong in the house, the blame falls on the mother even if it was initiated by the man. Before a woman seeks contraception, she even has to obtain consent from her husband.
|Family planning providers in African countries are worried that they are running short of emergency contraceptives due to manufacturing slowdowns and travel restrictions. / Photo by Damir Khabirov via Shutterstock|
Shipment of emergency contraceptives suspended
Family planning providers in African countries are worried that they are running short of emergency contraceptives due to manufacturing slowdowns and travel restrictions. Shibru added that he was expecting a shipment from Asia but it was also suspended. That shipment was supposed to serve African women contraceptives for the coming six months but now they are foreseeing a “huge shortage.”
Marie Stopes country director in Uganda Carole Sekimpi said that they are also not aware of when the shipment of the contraceptives will arrive in their country as their source in India has also imposed travel restrictions. Sekimpi said that they have been out of stock for a month already. She specifically mentioned Uganda’s need for oral contraceptive pills. Her organization has received calls from anxious women since they have suspended their outreach. “We don’t see you anymore,” callers would say.
Aside from foreseeing a rise in post-abortion care, Kampala expects several panicky women who will seek to remove their birth control implant or intrauterine device earlier than expected out of fear that there will be no family planning worker who will help them remove it later on. IUDs have a limited lifespan. It needs to be removed up to 12 years after insertion.
Health experts have been calling out the need to do something today to avoid another catastrophe in women’s health after the Covid-19 pandemic.