How COVID-19 Affected Family Planning Services

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Effects of COVID-19 on family planning: In the wake of the pandemic, ASHA employees had to take on additional responsibilities, which prevented them from raising awareness about family planning and distributing contraceptive pills and condoms

ASHA staff not only raise awareness of family planning services, they also distribute contraceptive pills and condoms to families across India. Image Courtesy: Twitter @ MoHFW_INDIA

The COVID-19 The pandemic has severely affected access to contraception and family planning services, experts and health workers said First post. Noting that this lack of access could lead to a major health crisis in terms of unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted diseases, the experts called for urgent attention.

In a panel discussion recently organized by the Population Foundation of India (PFI), a number of experts from large civil society organizations raised concerns on the issue. The speakers addressed a number of policy measures that need to be taken, including optimizing access to existing contraceptive methods and increasing the choice of contraceptives.

“Globally, more women and children may die from a lack of access to health services than from than COVID-19 even … If we can agree that contraceptives save lives, it stands to reason that lack of access to contraception is detrimental to the health and lives of women, ”Jaydeep Tank, Secretary General of the Federation of Obstetrical and Gynecological Societies, told the webinar .

Already before COVID-19 , inadequate family planning services were a major challenge in India.

According to research in the magazine, a total of 12.8 percent of women in the country had an unmet need for contraceptives in 2015-16 Demographics India, which analyzed data from the fourth round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Unmet need here refers to the percentage of sexually active fertile women who do not have access to contraception but want to delay or prevent pregnancy.

The COVID-19 The pandemic and the resulting strain on the health system have only made matters worse. A study by the global non-governmental organization Marie Stopes International in August 2020 estimated that 1.3 million women in India lost access to contraception and adoption services between January and June this year.

Speak with First post Commenting on the matter, Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of PFI, said: “When the first lockdown went into effect in March 2020, it affected several key health services such as family planning, sexual and reproductive health (SRH), institutional births, prenatal care and vaccination services. This has had a negative impact on family planning services, particularly in rural areas. These services were renewed by the second wave of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown in a number of states. “

She added: “The unmet need for family planning is already high in India and this disruption could have far-reaching consequences. It is projected that 26 million couples in India will not have access to contraception due to the pandemic and disruptions to family planning and sexual and reproductive health services. The inability to access contraception while in lockdown is likely to result in an additional 2.4 million unwanted pregnancies in India. “

Challenges for medical staff

The government provides contraception services to people through the National Health Mission. Contraception methods offered in public health centers include oral contraceptives, condoms, intrauterine contraceptives (IUCDs), and injectable contraceptives.

At the grassroots level, the role of the ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) is crucial for the success of these family planning measures. ASHA staff distribute contraceptives to people in their homes, and they are also responsible for disseminating information about contraception and providing family planning advice.

But in the course of the novel Coronavirus , ASHA employees have faced several new responsibilities as part of the effort to fight the pandemic. This includes contact tracing, awareness programs, ensuring that quarantine regulations are implemented and reporting suspected cases COVID-19 Cases. This inevitably affected their ability to exercise their family planning responsibilities.

Overworked ASHA staff have no access to contraception How COVID19 has impacted family planning services across India

ASHA workers in Hyderabad participate in a COVID-19 Awareness program. PTI

Amrapali Kharat, an ASHA employee in Thane District, described the new challenges the pandemic brought with it in a conversation with First post. She said, “In the early days of the pandemic, we had to visit several places outside of our regular work area for surveys-related COVID-19 . Because of this, we were unable to carry out our usual tasks in our regular areas. During this time, we were unable to distribute pills or condoms. Often the pills or condoms didn’t even reach us. “

The virus outbreak and quarantine norms also appear to have sparked new concerns among the population.

Kharat said, “Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 , Women need to get tested COVID-19 before undergoing a sterilization procedure. Because of this, many women have been reluctant to undergo surgery. If they tested positive, they would have to be quarantined and would have to skip work. There was also a widespread belief among people that if tested they would certainly test positive. “

Speaking of the bigger picture, Kharat said, “By and large, sales of contraception and other related activities have decreased significantly in 2020 Coronavirus the family planning services also suffered. Only now is everything slowly returning to normal. “

Still it is COVID-19 The pandemic continues to pose a major challenge to sexual and reproductive health. Grassroots health workers who have been on the front lines in fighting the virus are now involved in the vaccination process. This, combined with the possibility of a third wave of the Coronavirus , can make family planning even more difficult.

Regarding the measures that should be taken in the future to facilitate access, Muttreja said: “The second wave has reached the villages, although it seems to be decreasing in urban areas. Public health experts have the option of a third wave of. not excluded COVID-19 . While the need of the hour is to fight COVID-19 , this must not be at the expense of other essential health priorities. There is a need to ensure the uninterrupted provision of family planning and sexual and reproductive health services and to increase investment in them. “

“Studies from around the world have shown that investing in family planning is one of the most cost-effective public health measures and is a ‘best buy’ for development,” added Muttreja.

She added: “Strengthening health systems and allocating more health budgets is the order of the day. The government needs to reassess and transform the public health system to ensure the system’s readiness to fully address health emergencies. The mechanism for distributing contraceptives also needs to be properly planned. It is important to ensure greater engagement from social marketing and family planning organizations to support the government and relieve the public health system. Online platforms and telemedical services should be used to provide information and advice on family planning and sexual and reproductive health services. “



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