UNFPA COVID-19 Updates- Reproductive Health During Coronavirus
In times of crisis like the COVID-19 outbreak, healthcare systems are overburdened. Providing essential care – like family planning, prenatal and delivery care, and care after experiencing gender-based violence – becomes more challenging. UNFPA, the United Nations reproductive health and rights agency, is continuing to reach the world’s women and girls with care, despite the ongoing crisis.
Below, we provide regular updates on the impact of the virus on sexual and reproductive health and on UNFPA’s response.
- In Eswatini, UNFPA began a program that sends texts to women when they need to refill their birth control prescriptions. The messages reach 80,000 young women who are also receiving food support from the UN’s World Food Program and work to ensure that Eswatini women are not left behind in this pandemic.
- In Morroco, Operation SALAMA, a UNFPA project, reached pregnant women, the elderly, healthcare workers, and other vulnerable populations with SALAMA kits. The kits contain reproductive health supplies, like adult diapers or menstrual products, as well as supplies to prevent infection and information on the virus. Recipients have found the kits extremely helpful in this time of fear.
- In Uganda, women are able to get their birth control delivered by motorbike. Access to contraception is a human right and is essential for preventing unwanted pregnancy. Coronavirus has limited the ability of women to receive this care as healthcare clinics and workers are overburdened and under-supplied.
- In Egypt, pregnant women with COVID-19 have a safe space to give birth. This is crucial as women with COVID-19 may experience complications with their pregnancies if they go untreated.
- Today is World Population Day. COVID-19 has sickened at least 12 million people and killed more than half a million people. With no end to the virus in sight, UNFPA examines how the pandemic has affected everyone, but especially women and girls.
- Many LGBTQI people experience violence and lack access to healthcare due to stigma and misunderstandings about their needs. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges. UNFPA has partnered with an organization in Kyrgyzstan to meet the needs of LBGTQI people with food, HIV medication, hormone therapy, and counseling.
- COVID-19 has left girls in South Sudan especially vulnerable to child marriage and both women and girls are experiencing extremely high rates of gender-based violence. UNFPA operates women-friendly safe spaces there to ensure that women and girls can be safe from violence.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) is responding to increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Health personnel are being trained, capacity for hospital beds is increasing, and testing is ramping up. However, due the the crowded and uncleanly nature of refugee camps, there are fears that these measures won’t be enough.
- In Nepal, many women who want to use family planning are unable to because of global shortages due to coronavirus. These women may also have limited access to clinics or staff to provide them with contraceptives or may live in remote or locked-down areas. UNFPA is working to ensure that every woman, regardless of her location or situation, is able to receive this lifesaving care.
- In Palestine, women and girls face rising risks of intimate partner violence. Violence is already a common occurrence in Gaza under normal circumstances, but lockdowns have increased pressure at home and put more women at risk. UNFPA is strengthening to create silent and online platforms for women to receive care.
- In Tanzania, midwives work to make sure that women live through their pregnancies and that their babies are healthy. COVID-19 has increased fears around obtaining necessary healthcare, and as a result, 29,000 women are expected to die from pregnancy and childbirth related causes during the coronavirus pandemic. Even more women will suffer childbirth injuries, which is exactly what midwives in Tanzania are working to prevent.
- 48,000 mothers in Yemen could die due to a lack of funding and challenges presented by COVID-19. UNFPA operates 180 clinics in the country, though only 140 are at risk of closing. The agency is the only provider of reproductive health care for the Yemeni people. Staffing shortages have only been exacerbated by coronavirus,
- Tragically, two refugees in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh have contracted coronavirus. In the world’s largest refugee camp, there is little running water and people live in incredibly close quarters, potentially making the pandemic there especially lethal.
- As Mother’s Day approaches, many pregnant women are worried about how they will become moms. Can they safely give birth at a hospital? Who can be with them during this vulnerable time? Will the midwife or doctor have adequate personal protective equipment? Is she exposing her baby to COVID-19? UNFPA works to make sure that new moms and their babies are safe.
- COVID-19 will have huge long-term health consequences for millions of women and girls around the world. Already, UNFPA is projecting that there will be 7 million additional unintended pregnancies, 31 million additional acts of gender-based violence, 47 million women without access to contraceptives, 2 million additional cases of female genital mutilation, and 13 million more child brides. Many women will face infringements on their rights, making it even more important for individuals, governments, NGOs, and other UN agencies to support UNFPA’s lifesaving work.
- In Liberia, past Ebola efforts inform the COVID-19 response. Six years ago, the Ebola epidemic caused widespread fear in Liberia. So much was unknown about the deadly disease. Today, the coronavirus pandemic has put Liberians in the same position. UNFPA staff provided care through Ebola then and are implementing disease tracking now to contain the virus.
- Women in quarantine centers and prisons desperately need menstrual hygiene supplies. In El Salvador, UNFPA is distributing those supplies and information on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There are more than 200 cases of coronavirus in the country.
- The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Yemen. Years of conflict have led to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis there, with 80 percent of the country – 24.1 million people – requiring aid. The coronavirus outbreak there will almost certainly have dire consequences for the Yemeni people. UNFPA is the sole provider of reproductive healthcare in the country.
- There are no cases of coronavirus in Yemen yet, but the effects of the pandemic are still being felt. Aisha was unknowingly pregnant with triplets. She had been avoiding her prenatal appointments out of fear that she might contract the virus and it would put her unborn babies at risk. Luckily, Aisha gave birth to three healthy sons, but for other women and their babies in similar situations, lack of prenatal care can be deadly.
- COVID-19 has caused many cities, regions, and countries to impose lockdowns, curfews, and stay-at-home orders. These measures are great from an infection containment standpoint but have sparked fear for those living with abusive partners or family members. In Kosovo, reports of gender-based violence have increased by 17% with urban areas being even more affected. UNFPA is stepping up their support for survivors there.
- Fathers in Georgia are stepping up to help their wives with childcare and household chores. During the COVID-19 outbreak, billions of people around the globe are staying home. Traditionally, women have taken on the lion’s share of domestic work and this workload has only increased as more time is spent in the home. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, UNFPA urged husbands and fathers to take on a more equitable share of household work, but now, the need is even greater.
- Nearly 70% of global health organizations are run by a man, while 70% of healthcare workers are women. This disparity leaves women and girls behind- they are less likely to have access to the care they need, they are less likely to have their symptoms taken seriously by doctors, and healthcare providers are less likely to have their needs met by the systems they work for. UNFPA has been advocating for the health of women and girls, who are at increased risk for domestic violence during quarantines, and caregivers who are more likely to become sick or infect their families.
- Afghanistan recently confirmed their first death from coronavirus. The man was 40 years old and represents the growing possibility that coronavirus does not only affect the elderly. Further, there is growing concern about when the virus will reach Yemen and Syria, two areas that have faced years of internal conflict. The people there have been without secure food and healthcare sources for years and are effectively immunosuppressed. A COVID-19 outbreak will almost certainly take hundreds of thousands of lives of all ages there.
- The Guardian reports that garment workers in countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh face incredible poverty as the coronavirus outbreak decreases the demand from Western clothing brands for textiles. Incidents of GBV could increase dramatically as workers stay home during COVID-19. Survivors may have limited ability to access care, including the clinical management of rape and psychosocial counseling. UNFPA is already in these countries providing care and has stepped up its efforts since the beginning of the outbreak.
- UNFPA appeals for $60 million to fund their COVID-19 response. These funds would support the continued provision of prenatal and delivery care, family planning, and care after experiencing gender-based violence. Women do not stop requiring these services during a pandemic.
- UNFPA has noted that incidents of gender-based violence will likely increase during quarantines.
- UNFPA is further using this money to support the global health infrastructure with supplies, staff, and administrative support, as well as amplifying the advice of public health officials through their communication efforts.
- COVID-19 reported on the Greek island of Lesbos, where nearly 20,000 refugees live. This is the first instance of coronavirus in a refugee population. There is limited access to soap and clean water, with as many as 1,300 people relying on a single faucet. Further, the camp was built to house just 3,000 refugees. Now, with nearly 6X as many refugees living there, social distancing is impossible.
- The WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic. The announcement triggered a series of national and global administrative protocols that expand funding for public health efforts, medical care, and research. “Pandemic” indicates that a disease has spread to several countries or continents, usually quite rapidly. This is a step higher in urgency than the classification of “epidemic” or “outbreak” which each describe a disease that has spread to a region or community, respectively. The WHO’s announcement does not indicate that COVID-19 has become more deadly or virulent, just that it circulating in a larger area.