The ultimate goal of family planning is threatened due to the COVID-19 pandemic even as women and girls continue to suffer the worst impact of the disease.
A report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 115 low-and-middle-income countries revealed that women faced an average disruption in their family planning services of 3.6 months over the past year.
Consequently, over 12 million women found it difficult to access family planning services as a result of the pandemic, leading to 1.4 million unintended pregnancies.
Similarly, a new report revealed that funding gaps by international donors will leave an additional 6.5 million without access to contraceptive methods, and could lead to two million unsafe abortions and 23,500 maternal deaths.
Nigeria, like many other countries, has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. While efforts have been devoted to curtailing the disease, a major concern has been its potential effects on the delivery and utilisation of reproductive health care services in the country.
A study titled: “Effect of COVID-19 pandemic on provision of sexual and reproductive health services in primary health facilities in Nigeria: a cross-sectional study” confirmed this situation.
The study showed that prior to the pandemic, about 97 per cent of the Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs) offered Reproductive, Maternal and Child Health (RMCAH) services.
Except in antenatal, the study revealed that there was a significant reduction in clients’ utilisation of family planning services during the lockdown as a result of the pandemic.
Reported difficulties during the lockdown include, stock-out of contraceptives , depriving many women and girls in Nigeria to lead healthy lives, make their own informed decisions about using contraception and whether and when to have children.
Indeed, COVID-19 pandemic has truly exposed the weakness in Nigeria health system and disrupted sexual reproductive health services.
Director, Family Health Department, Federal Ministry of Health Dr. Salma Anas-Kolo described the COVID-19 pandemic as an incidence that Nigeria should learn from to come up with innovative approaches to close funding gaps for sexual and reproductive health services in the country.
Anas-Kolo admitted, “What we have realised is that the COVID-19 pandemic has truly exposed the weakness in Nigeria health system and disrupted sexual reproductive health services.”
Truly reports show that the modest progress made in sexual and reproductive health services in the country is being challenged by the high out-of-pocket payment for services. This is coupled with lack of regular capacity building for quality service delivery among many health workers at the Primary healthcare Centre(PHC) levels.
Unequivocally, the use of family planning is still low in Nigeria. The country still has a long way to go.
Also, the country’s policies need to be gender-responsive in the post COVID-19 pandemic era.
Nigeria must urgently build health systems at all levels in case of emergencies, also linking this to other programmes like nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programme, and even education.
Indeed, there is urgent need for country to revive the hope of women and girls by addressing their numerous reproductive health challenges to assure them that they can lead a healthy life.
Hence, the reasons other stakeholders must step in to support government in boosting availability and access to sexual and reproductive health services in the country.
According to the country director, Pathfinder International Nigeria, Dr. Amina Aminu, government cannot do it alone, the main reason her organisation, is at the fore front of championing issues of reproductive health in Nigeria especially at the peak of the pandemic.
Focused on the wellbeing of women of reproductive age, Aminu said the international organization ensured that it surmounts the huge cultural, traditional barriers amongst others posed to access to family planning commodities in a bid to making sure that every woman has the opportunity to choose when and how many children she wants to have.
“Reproductive health system has evolved significantly from one that was largely blind to the unique health needs of women to one that recognises that for individuals to lead a productive life especially women, the higher standards of health and in particular sexual and reproductive health must be secured.
“Pathfinder is driven by the conviction that all people regardless of where they live have the right to decide whether and when to have children, to exist free from fear and stigma and live the lives they choose,” she added.
No doubt, these commitments made by the Nigerian government and Pathfinder International are in the right direction of ensuring that women and girls in Nigeria have the freedom and ability to lead healthy lives, but more commitments is highly welcome, if the country must achieve its Family Planning targets.