Bodily autonomy in times of crisis
During the first 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the estimated disruption in contraceptive supplies and services lasted an average of 3.6 months, leading to as many as 1.4 million unintended pregnancies worldwide.
Our guest Brain Ssekajja (Reproductive Health Uganda) shares his experience from the past two-and-a-half years: “Uganda had the world’s longest lockdown: the schools were closed and health facilities were partially locked for almost all of 2020. This affected access to SRHR services, including family planning services.” He continues: “The ‘SRHR and COVID-19 study’ shows that the surge in unintended pregnancies in Uganda was bound to happen. We need to scale up our efforts to improve women’s decision-making power in family planning services. Also, we need to improve access to age-appropriate and accurate information. And last, SRHR services should be prioritised and considered essential services that should continue during a pandemic.”
Beatriz de la Mora (UNFPA) adds: “The whole health service was strained, and contraceptive services were disrupted dramatically. Not only because of the supply chain but because resources were deployed elsewhere. Here, you can see that we had created a demand for contraceptives. During the pandemic, there were women that had to move to specific a centre to meet their healthcare workers that would bring her the contraceptive method she had gotten used to, that worked for her. It was very, very hard to keep that in place. And why wouldn’t she still have access to that method that worked for her? That put us all on our toes.”
Joris Jurriëns (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands): “COVID-19 has had a highly negative impact on health and SRHR worldwide. There is more, financial services are under pressure as well. For example, half of the budget of Burkina Faso goes to the response to COVID… On the other hand, because of COVID-19 health is high on the International agenda. We can turn this into an opportunity. We should be strong in debating the indirect impact of covid on the health and rights of women and girls. In this way, it could help us get back on track again.”
Unintended pregnancies are of all times, this is nothing new. They are a private matter, but they should concern all of us. Because it’s not just a personal issue, but also a health issue, a human rights issue, a humanitarian issue, a development issue: it’s a global crisis.
In that sense “COVID-19 is a lens to problems that were there before,” concludes Lisa de Pagter (Rutgers).