Pandemic Seen Changing How Women Get Reproductive Health Care

This story was originally published August 11, 2020 by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

LONDON, Aug 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The coronavirus pandemic could bring wider use of self-managed abortions and contraception, extending reproductive health care to more women and girls, medical charities said on Tuesday.

With movement restricted as nations try to limit the spread of COVID-19, women using medication to end unwanted pregnancies becomes a viable option, said Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), a medical charity, and Marie Stopes International (MSI), a family planning organization, in a virtual media briefing.

ARCHIVE PHOTO: An illustration picture shows a woman holding a birth control pill at her home in Nice January 3, 2013. | REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
ARCHIVE PHOTO: An illustration picture shows a woman holding a birth control pill at her home in Nice January 3, 2013. | REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Before the pandemic, women and girls living in low-income countries and remote areas suffered from a lack of reproductive health services and have even less access under lockdown, they said.

"At this moment in history, I think we have a really unique opportunity to revolutionize our approach to sexual and reproductive services, specifically contraception and safe abortion care," said Manisha Kumar, head of MSF's task force on safe abortion care. MSF also is known as Doctors Without Borders.

Self-managed abortions, typically using a combination of the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, do not require in-person visits to health care facilities and offer an option to women living in places where abortion is not readily available, they said.

"During a pandemic or an emergency, we cannot continue to provide services in the same way," said Kumar.

Prescribing longer refills for contraceptives is another way to reach marginalized and vulnerable women and girls as well, they said.

Aid agencies and women's rights' advocates have warned that access to abortion and contraception will be constrained as the fight against COVID-19 diverts resources along with limiting movement.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the U.N.'s sexual and reproductive health agency, has warned that as many as seven million unintended pregnancies could occur in the coming months.

MSI estimated up to 9.5 million people could lose access to sexual and reproductive health care services this year.

It also has forecast an additional 2.7 million unsafe abortions and 11,000 additional maternal deaths due to lack of services.

Reporting by Elsa Ohlen, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst.

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