The exceptional measures used by governments and health authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as containment, quarantine or reorganization of health services, directly affected the full realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights. This was particularly the case for women and girls.

These impacts are felt at several levels and require an in-depth rethinking of international health development in order to make this issue a global priority.

Access to birth control

Access to birth control is one of the sexual and reproductive health issues most affected by the pandemic. Family planning and birth control were severely disrupted during the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, with seven out of ten countries affected.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in 114 low- and middle-income countries, more than 47 million women do not have access to contraceptives. With each three-month extension of the measures, up to two million more women could not have access to modern methods of birth control.

Containment measures have also disrupted contraceptive supply chains and the ability to access health facilities. As a result of the focus on essential supplies to fight COVID-19, sexual and reproductive health-related commodities have become inaccessible or out of stock, directly hampering women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. millions of women and girls.

Access to sexual health services

The impacts of COVID-19 are also being felt on access to sexual and reproductive health services, including antenatal care, maternal and newborn health services, sexually transmitted infection care or health counseling. sexual. In the United States, one in three women said they had to delay or cancel a visit to a sexual and reproductive health provider, or have had difficulty obtaining contraception.

Sexual and reproductive health clinic closures have placed a disproportionate burden on women and girls with sexual and reproductive health needs. School closures (a measure widely implemented around the world) have also led to reduced access to information and sex education, mainly for girls. Not going back to school has exposed these girls to lack of information and resources, high-risk pregnancies and teenage deaths (as Save the Children reports childbirth is the leading cause of death in the country. the world for girls aged 15-19).

Even modest barriers to sexual and reproductive health services can have major health effects. For example, the consequences of a 10% decrease in health coverage related to pregnancy can be disastrous for women and newborns: 1.7 million women giving birth and 2.6 million newborns will suffer. serious complications and will not receive the necessary care.

Access to abortion

During the pandemic, access to abortion was declared in many states and health jurisdictions as a non-essential service, hampering access for millions of women and girls. In May 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that some US states were using the COVID-19 emergency to restrict access to abortion. In Italy, healthcare facilities have also suspended abortion-related services or reassigned gynecological staff to anti-COVID-19 care, exacerbating barriers to legal abortion.

Increase in gender-based violence

The violence has also been exacerbated by the health crisis, leading to an increase in gender-based violence threatening well-being and health. UNFPA has estimated, for example, that a six-month lockdown results in an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence.

An additional 15 million cases would be added for each three-month extension. Children are particularly affected. Save the Children estimated in May 2020 that in the three months after their implementation, the home care guidelines resulted in a 20-32% increase in physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children. That means 85 million more girls and boys affected globally for June, July and August 2020 alone.

Recommendations Advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights is a long-term endeavor that cannot afford to stop, even in the event of a pandemic. Millions of women and girls are more affected globally than those affected by COVID-19. According to the Guttmacher Institute, for example, in 2020 there were 218 million women with an unmet need for modern contraception, 111 million unintended pregnancies, 30 million unplanned deliveries and 35 million abortions. at risk, and this, only for -income countries, against about 80 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide in 2020.

The international community must mobilize with the same force as it did for the current pandemic. Sexual and reproductive health and rights must become a global priority. To do this, we must: Establish a guaranteed base of sexual and reproductive health services that cannot be suspended, even in the event of a major crisis. This would help ensure a minimum supply of services, with continued funding, so that hard-won sexual and reproductive health and rights gains are not lost.

Implement a gender and intersectional analysis for all health policies to assess the short, medium and long term effects to ensure that the negative impact of other health emergencies does not outweigh the expected political benefits. Continue to invest in international health development projects and ensure a significant budget to support the continuity of services despite other health emergencies and crises such as COVID-19.

Establish a specialization within the police and security services on gender-based violence so that people, especially women, can obtain support and protection without delay, even in emergency situations. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the achievement of sexual and reproductive health and rights is multidimensional, direct and indirect, unevenly distributed internationally, and felt around the world.

These impacts interact and overlap with other gender and / or economic and social inequalities that existed before the pandemic, adding to the complexity of the problem and the difficulties of responding adequately. The international community must make this a priority.


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