The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is having potentially catastrophic secondary impacts on the health of women and children. Decisions made at every level of the response to the pandemic are resulting in women being further cut off from sexual and reproductive health services, threatening sharp rises in maternal and neonatal mortality.
Women and children are often denied care outright or face dangerous delays getting the services they need. The impacts of misguided policies and barriers to care are especially severe in places with weak or overburdened health systems. Thousands more lives will get lost when safe delivery, neonatal, and family planning services become inaccessible due to the outbreak.
SEMA US teams at our medical projects, although trying their best to keep the core services running, are already seeing the painful indirect effects of the pandemic on women’s lives:
- closures and cuts to sexual and reproductive health services
- movement restrictions, including travel bans, lockdowns, and curfews
- supply chain disruptions
- lack of clear public health information and guidance
In addition, there has been significant reporting about the economic impacts of the pandemic, with poor and marginalised communities hardest hit. Refugees, migrant workers, and people working in informal jobs already face extreme difficulties getting access to basic healthcare, and these challenges are compounded by COVID-19.
Sexual and reproductive healthcare is essential healthcare
Sexual and reproductive health needs are often neglected in the midst of an emergency – and COVID-19 has been no different. In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued interim guidance for maintaining essential services during an outbreak, which included advice to prioritise services related to reproductive health and make efforts to avert maternal and child morbidity and mortality.
Nevertheless, frontline providers were forced to make tough choices about which services are most important, women were often left out. Resources for women’s healthcare were sometimes diverted to support COVID-19 activities.
Although access to safe delivery care has long been acknowledged as an essential health service, many pregnant women suddenly found themselves with fewer options for care.