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A health worker collects a sample for covid testing in Patna on Wednesday. (PTI)
A health worker collects a sample for covid testing in Patna on Wednesday. (PTI)

Virus crisis restricts access to family planning services

  • Covid-19 lockdown affected sexual and reproductive services, shows health ministry data
  • Intrauterine device insertions fell 21% from 260,615 last December to 205,395 in March

NEW DELHI : The need for family planning and abortion services were already high in India, and the covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the situation by denying access, government data shows.

According to Health Management Information System (HMIS) data, the number of first doses for injectable contraception fell by 36% from 66,112 in December 2019 to 42,639 in March, soon after the covid-19 outbreak.

Intrauterine device insertions showed a 21% fall from 260,615 last December to 205,395 in March. Similarly, the distribution of combined oral pill cycles and condoms was down by 15% and 23%, respectively. During the same period, abortions were down by about 28%, the data shows.

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, citing government data, said that the figures paint a grim picture of limited family planning service provision and increase in the unmet need for family planning.

Demonstrating the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on family planning, 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, due to non-availability of transport services and limited capacity for decision-making related to contraception and abortion, there were fewer walk-ins.

The paper said the nationwide lockdown also affected the distribution network of social marketing organizations and private providers, which led to a further decline in access to family planning and abortion services. Post-lockdown, the private sector did not have enough manpower to cater to the market, despite significant reduction in the clientele. A dearth of personal protective equipment also resulted in refusal to provide services, it said, adding that limited resources and fear of contracting covid led to significant reduction in tubal ligations and IUD insertions in the private sector as well.

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Public health experts said that the women were the worst affected during the pandemic. “Besides the physical threat to women’s health, it also affects their mental, social, financial, and sexual and reproductive health negatively," said Dr Suresh Sharma, head, population research centre, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University.

He added that the covid-19-led lockdown affected sexual and reproductive health services, which is a basic right of every woman. It 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. 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 increase the mother’s and child’s risk of mortality," he said.

Meanwhile, covid-19 cases in India continued to surge to reach 958,044 cases on Wednesday, with 24,713 fatalities. The Centre is focusing on increasing testing. In the last 24 hours 320,161 samples were tested, to take the total number 1,24,12,664 samples, or 8,994.7 samples per million population, the health ministry said.

In the past 24 hours, 20,572 covid-19 patients were cured, taking the total recoveries to 605,556. With this, the recovery rate climbed to 63.24%. The number of recovered cases outweighs the active cases by a factor of 1.85, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The research paper on family planning services also said that the number of public sector facilities reporting routine Health Management Information System data also fell between December 2019 and March 2020 all over India—by around 32% from district hospitals providing secondary health care and specialist services, and by 14% from the primary level health facilities near the community.

“These disruptions to healthcare service data reporting may be due to these facilities having to provide covid-19 related care; and field workers being deployed to community health facilities," the paper added.

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