The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on various sectors, but the most silent one could be in the health sector in which women are said to be the worst victims.
The UNFPA executive director Dr Natalia Kanem said that women were not being able to exercise their reproductive rights and choices following disruptions in healthcare services, apart from gender discrimination that prevents them from making decisions on accessing healthcare.
“For some, it (pandemic) has led to postponing childbearing. For others, disruptions in healthcare have led to unintended pregnancies,” Dr Natalia said in her message on World Population Day, which is observed on July 11 every year.
“Although we are yet to get a full picture of the impact of COVID-19 on fertility, these trends have provoked alarmist concerns about baby booms or busts,” she said. “What should cause alarm is when women cannot exercise their reproductive rights and choices – whether because healthcare services are interrupted, or because gender discrimination prevents them from making decisions about accessing healthcare.”
Dr Natalia said what leads to healthy and productive societies is when women can make informed choices about their reproductive health, and when they have access to services to support their choices.
“A woman – who has control over her body gains not only in terms of autonomy, but also through advances in health and education, income and safety – is more likely to thrive, and so is her family,” she said.
But unfortunately, Dr Natalia said the pandemic has laid bare stark inequalities and weaknesses in healthcare systems within and among countries.
“The crisis has caused many overstretched healthcare systems to scale back reproductive healthcare services, which are often not deemed essential.
“While these services are a human right, they have been shunted aside in favour of more ‘pressing’ concerns. Amid economic pressures and budget cuts, there is a real risk that some countries may fail to restore these services,” she added.
On World Population Day, Dr Natalia called for action to close all gaps, because reproductive health services are essential. “Even if healthcare systems are understandably strained, these services cannot wait. Any further delays will curtail the health and well-being of women and girls, consequences that can last a lifetime,” she said.
“Let us work together to uphold the right to decide when and if to have a family,” she added.