Contraceptive cost of COVID: a million unplanned pregnancies

A pregnant woman waits to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, U.S., February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

BOGOTA: Nearly 12 million women in poorer countries lost access to contraception in the pandemic, leading to 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Estimates by the U.N. sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, showed women lost access to contraception as the pandemic drew resources away from family planning or hit supply chains.

Women also lost out due to coronavirus travel restrictions, clinic closures and stay-at-home orders, the UNFPA said.

“We must ensure that women and girls have uninterrupted access to life-saving contraceptives and maternal health medicines,” UNFPA’s head, Natalia Kanem, said in a statement.

“The devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on the lives of millions of women and girls in the past year underscores just how vital it is to ensure the continuity of reproductive health services.”

The U.N. data highlighted the many ways in which women have suffered disproportionately in the pandemic, be it through greater job losses, increased domestic duties or rising incidents of domestic and sexual violence.

In 115 low- and middle-income countries, women faced an average disruption in their family planning services of 3.6 months over the past year, UNFPA data showed.

The U.N. said this showed how “many health systems were resilient enough to eventually adapt” and return to business sooner than it had expected.

Last April, it had predicted that 47 million women would be affected by disruptions in family planning services, resulting in 7 million unintended pregnancies.

The data is nonetheless “incredibly concerning”, said Paula Avila-Guillen, head of the Women’s Equality Center, a U.S.-based health care and rights organization.

Lockdowns and school closures have also kept many girls and women confined to home with abusive family members, she said, leading to “more insidious and more invisible consequences”.

“Many violence victims rely on access to birth control and are becoming pregnant as a result of this violence, which chains them even more to their abusers’ control,” she said.

The disruption also badly affects women living in countries where abortion is banned or severely restricted, including in parts of Latin America and Africa.

“When people lose access to contraception, they are left to try and make do with often less effective ways to avoid a pregnancy they do not want,” said Ann Biddlecom, director of international research at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group.

“For people in many countries who experience an unintended pregnancy, they face further barriers to being able to secure a safe abortion.”


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Anastasia Moloney | Thomson Reuters Foundation

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