Highlighting the need to focus on sexual and reproductive health rights of girls and women, a policy paper released by Population Foundation of India (PFI) recommends applying a gender lens – using gender-disaggregated data and evidence – to our response to COVID-19 and “increasing investments in family planning as the most cost-effective public health measure”.
Coming on World Population Day on July 11, the recommendations include investing in the 3.3 million female frontline health workers who are the face of the Indian public health system and in many parts of the country the only health-care support.
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Extra efforts are required to strengthen the public health system and increase health budgets to optimize service delivery and health facilities as well as maintain supply chains, the paper notes. Using social and behavior change communication (SBCC) campaigns to spread information and awareness on COVID-19 and address myths and misconceptions, is another key recommendation.
The paper assesses the differential impact of COVID-19 and recommending timely measures to ensure women and girls remain central to COVID-19 response planning and recovery efforts.
According to Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of PFI, “The COVID-19 crisis has placed unprecedented demands on our social services and health care system. Women are increasingly at greater risk of sexual and domestic violence, disruptions to their healthcare services, stock-outs of supplies of contraceptives and menstrual hygiene products, and mental stress and anxiety. It is critical that we reassess our emergency response policies through a gender lens to improve planning and programming.”
Evidence from past epidemics as well as the existing body of evidence around the impact of COVID-19 suggests that the disruption of essential health services, including family planning, put women and girls at risk of decreased access to services as resources are diverted from routine health services including pre- and post-natal health care, family planning, and contraceptive supply, menstrual health and other reproductive health services, PFI said.
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The limited availability of essential health services, including sexual and reproductive health services will be detrimental in the long run. According to estimates by UNICEF, India would have the highest number of forecast births, at 20 million, in the nine months period dating from when COVID-19 has first declared a pandemic.
The Guttmacher Institute has projected that a 10 percent decline in the use of reversible contraceptive methods in low -and-middle-income countries due to reduced access would result in an additional 49 million women with an unmet need for modern contraceptives and an additional 15 million unintended pregnancies over the course of a year. (IANS)