1.3 Million Indian Women Lost Access To Birth Control, Abortions During Pandemic: NGO
A report by an international NGO has found that almost two million women, across 37 countries, have lost access to contraceptives and abortion services amid the pandemic — with India faring worse than most of the others.
Published this week, a report by Marie Stopes International (MSI), an NGO providing contraception and safe abortion services in 37 countries around the world, says that between January and June, globally, they had served 1.9 million fewer women than originally estimated for the period. 1.3
million of these figures are from India alone, with 920,000 fewer safe abortion and post-abortion care services being delivered here. And, these numbers are likely to be “greatly amplified” in the coming months.
Almost a third of women in India who were seeking reproductive services, were unable to leave home due to the pandemic. Another 30 percent of those seeking abortions, reported that the clinic in their area was closed, while for several others, the wait time for abortion appointments were above five weeks. Time is a crucial element in abortions. In India, abortions are allowed until the twentieth week of pregnancy, and a bill to raise it to 24 weeks is currently pending. Moreover, abortions during late-stage pregnancies are also risky. “As countries go into lockdown or mobility is reduced, women will have to wait longer and the procedure becomes more complex,” Simon Cooke, CEO of MSI, had told The Guardian in April. And, these fears aren’t unfounded — after the Ebola outbreak in 2014, maternal mortality rates had soared in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone due to quarantine restrictions that resulted in lack of access to healthcare.
Further, studies already show that when women are denied access to abortion, their physical, mental, and financial well-being, are all adversely affected. And, instances of being denied abortions due to inordinate delays on account of the pandemic, have already begun taking place.
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Last month, the WHO reported frequent disruptions in family planning and contraception across countries — despite the WHO recognizing abortion as an essential healthcare service during the pandemic. In its report, through a socio-demographic mathematical model, MSI estimates 900,000 unintended pregnancies worldwide, in the coming months, alongside 1.5 million unsafe abortions, and more than 3,000 maternal deaths. Further, its forecast is even more grim for India: 1 million unsafe abortions, an additional 650,000 unintended pregnancies and 2,600 maternal deaths.
Lockdowns, travel restrictions, supply chain disruptions, fear of contracting Covid19, and a huge shift of health resources to combat the pandemic are being held responsible for the lack of access. Reports about home delivery of contraceptives in India are emerging, and options like home-based medical abortion are being discussed as possible solutions — but, perhaps, things need to be sped up. “…As a doctor I have seen only too often the drastic action that women and girls take when they are unable to access contraception and safe abortion,” Dr. Rashmi Ardey, Clinical Director of FRHS India, an affiliate of MSI, warned, adding, “This pandemic has strained healthcare services all over the world, but sexual and reproductive healthcare was already so under prioritized that once again women are bearing the brunt of this global calamity.”
“In many countries the worst effects of Covid19 are yet to come, and in others, a second wave is on the horizon, but there is an opportunity to use this as a catalytic moment to transform services and make women’s lives better tomorrow than they are today,” Cooke noted, hoping for a brighter future for women’s health.