The COVID-19 pandemic has compromised health care systems, particularly, in the area of sexual and reproductive health services. One major area has been the disruptions to family planning information and services globally.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO), pulse survey on continuity of essential services during the pandemic in 2020 showed that 70 countries of the 102 countries surveyed, reported disruptions in family planning services. The disruption according to the findings, have been in the form of breakdowns in contraceptive supply chains, closure of primary healthcare and abortion clinics, diversion of staff from family planning services to COVID-19 response, and non-response to population fears around health-seeking due to the fear of infection. As a consequence, nearly 12 million women were unable to access contraception during the pandemic leading to 1.4 million unintended pregnancies in low income and middle-income countries (LMICs) in 2020.
Before COVID-19, it has been a common tragedy in Nigeria, where women have not had a say about what happens to their bodies. It has continued. Nigeria is a country where there is a lack of educational opportunities for girls, who are married off before age 12 instead.
Sadly, with the continuous violation of the sexual and reproductive rights of women and young girls, stakeholders say there is an urgent need for leaders to ensure that gaps created by the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere sexual and reproductive services essentials are closed.
Thanks to organisations like Pathfinder International who have been working to ensure that these rights and choices of millions of women and young people are supported to choose their own paths forward.
For Pathfinder International, Nigeria, women’s sexual and reproductive rights shouldn’t be used against her.
More surveys done to determine the impact of COVID 19 pandemic on family planning threw up some salient points on access and use of contraceptives.
More studies revealed the women and girls’ experiences with family planning access. The surveys found that there were fertility pressures in Nigeria and other countries under COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions.
They found that a lot of reproductive rights and choices of women were trampled upon by their spouses.
Findings have shown that many women were forced or pressured to become pregnant, some were denied access to contraceptives while some were not allowed to visit the clinic or pharmacy to get contraceptives.
Statistics from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shows that 12 million women were denied family planning due to the pandemic.
Unless the reproductive rights and choices of women are guaranteed, the world population and Nigeria will continue to explode.
For so many years, Pathfinder International has been empowering Nigeria’s women and men to take control of their reproductive health and lives.
They believe that a woman has the right to access and use contraceptives as well as decide when to have children and the number of children they should have.
In the views of the Executive Director of UNFPA, Dr Natalia Kanem during the 2021 World Population Day, whether baby boom or bust, the solution to shifting fertility rates lie in prioritising all people’s reproductive health and rights.
Noting that despite the fact that COVID-19 has disrupted childbearing for some people, it has also disrupted the health services leaving many with unintended pregnancies.
She said the disruption by COVID-19 has provoked alarmist concern about baby boom or busts. “But the real cause for concern comes when people cannot exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and choices because of disruptions in the health services.
She advised against reactionary policy responses that can be extremely harmful if they violate rights, health and choices.
Quoting the World Population Data dashboard, Kanem said that it took hundreds of thousands of years for the world population to grow to 1 billion – then in just another 200 years or so, it grew sevenfold.
She further emphasised that women must be empowered educationally, economically and politically to exercise choice over their bodies and fertility.
She called for the need to prioritise health programmes to respond to the infectious disease outbreak which had impacted sexual and reproductive health services.
“We will ensure women’s and girls’ choices and rights to sexual and reproductive health are respected regardless of their COVID-19 status, including access to contraception and emergency contraception,” she said.
However, experts believe that when reproductive rights and choices of women and girls are respected, the benefits are enormous as it contributes to fertility reduction and population explosion. It promotes the use of modern contraceptive methods in preventing unplanned pregnancies as well as ensuring healthy families are non-negotiable.
They believed that creating a world where a woman’s reproductive health is no longer a weapon used against her, where she has rights and is able to make choices about her own body, free from persecution and fear.