Executive Director, PMNCH
Nothing is inevitable about the way the world will rebuild its systems and societies after COVID-19, but the choices we make now about what, how and who we support will shape the future of our planet for decades.
Although women of reproductive age are not among the most at-risk groups for contracting COVID-19, the pandemic has magnified the many inequalities they face in society, especially in developing countries.
“The pandemic has had multiple negative effects beyond COVID-19 itself,” said Helga Fogstad, Executive Director of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH).
Estimates suggest that over a six-month period of the pandemic, as many as 47 million women have lost access to contraception, leading to 7 million unintended pregnancies.
Sexual health services deemed ‘non-essential’
Fogstad explains: “This is really because, especially in developing countries, sexual and reproductive health services have wrongly been deemed non-essential, and access to vital contraceptive supplies and health services have been disrupted, leading to a significant rise in unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”
“Good sexual and reproductive health is critical for women and girls’ general health and wellbeing, and central to their ability to make choices and decisions about their lives, including when and whether to consider having children. This is being taken away from them.”
Furthermore, domestic and sexual violence against women and children has also risen, child illness rates are up due to lack of access to primary care services, and women are most likely to face unemployment as an economic consequence of the pandemic.
Good sexual and reproductive health is critical for women and girls’ general health and wellbeing, and central to their ability to make choices and decisions about their lives.
Equal rights for women and girls in developing countries
As a result, PMNCH is calling on the global community to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services and equal rights (SRHR) for women and girls in developing countries, during the recovery from COVID-19 and beyond.
PMNCH has created a seven-point call to action, urging governments to protect and promote the health and rights of women, children and adolescents through strengthened political commitment, policies and financing.
PMNCH, together with White Ribbon Alliance and Every Women Every Child, will also host an Accountability Breakfast alongside the UN General Assembly in September 2020, calling on civil society, the private sector, grassroots organisations and community advocates to secure high-quality, accessible sexual and reproductive health services, and to strengthen accountability for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and rights during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.
Could this be a golden opportunity?
Fogstad says the pandemic could represent a watershed moment for ensuring better support in the future.
“The provision of a comprehensive package of services that addresses SRHR will benefit women, children, and society as a whole.
“This could be a golden opportunity to achieve universal health coverage for all and massively scale up the investment in public health and primary health services which is so important to women, children and adolescents.”