NEW DELHI: At a time when the need for family planning and abortion services is already high in India, covid-19 has exacerbated the situation by reducing access to these facilities, government data shows.
According to the data available with Health Management Information System (HMIS) under union health ministry, the number of injectable contraception-first doses given decreased from 66,112 doses given in December to 42,639 in March after the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic.
While intrauterine device (IUD) insertion showed a 21% decrease to 205,395 in March, distribution of combined oral pill cycles and condom pieces were reduced by 15% and 23%, respectively. During this time, the reduction in abortions performed was about 28%, according to the data.
A research paper titled — Impact of covid-19 on family planning services in India — published in the Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters Journal this week said the figures paint a grim picture of limited family planning service provision and increase in unmet need for family planning.
Demonstrating the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on family planning service provision, the paper said guidelines released by the Ministry of Health recommend continuation of routine reproductive health services, including walk-ins for family planning services. However, the almost non-existence of available transport to reach a facility and limited capacity for decision making related to contraception and abortion, translated into few walk-ins.
The paper further stated that lockdown also resulted in a loss of distribution for social marketing organisations and private providers, leading to further reductions in access to family planning and abortion services. The private sector all over India is grappling with lack of human resources and significant reduction in the clientele. There is a dearth of personal protective equipment, resulting in refusal to provide services and an unsafe working environment, it said adding limited resources and fear of contracting infection have led to significant reduction in tubal ligations and IUD insertions.
Public health experts have said the pandemic had left women worst affected as the effect of the covid-19 pandemic has been highly skewed as the burden of it falls mainly upon women.
“Besides the physical threat to women’s health, it also affects their mental, social, financial, and sexual and reproductive health negatively,” said Suresh Sharma, head, Population Research Center, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University. Sharma said that covid-19 has affected access to sexual and reproductive health services which is a basic right of women as complete shutdown has delayed or stopped access to family planning measures such as contraception and abortion.
“Many family planning clinics have either shut down or converted into covid-19 wards to cater to the pandemic. It is also highly unlikely that people would invest in contraceptives in these times of economic recession. This could lead to an increase in unmet need for contraception resulting in a rise in adolescent pregnancies and unsafe abortions, which would in turn increase the mother and child’s risk of mortality,” said Sharma.