Whilst governments and health systems are responding to COVID-19, it is essential that access to family planning is part of the response. “One of the lessons we have already learned in this short time is how much women bear the burden of any situation that involves family health”, says Wendo Aszed, founder of Dandelion Africa, a CHASE Africa partner in Kenya’s Rift Valley.
In northern Kenya, Rose Kimanzi from Community Health Africa Trust, another CHASE partner, explains that everyone is obliged to stay at home so the risk of domestic abuse and unplanned pregnancy is heightened. “The communities we work in are very paternalistic. Wife beating is the order of the day and we are trying to monitor what is happening”, Rose explains.
During the COVID-19 crisis, women and girls in Kenya face unprecedented risks of maternal and neo-natal deaths as well as sexual and gender-based violence. “We expect to see a spike in unintended pregnancies following the closure of schools”, reports Dr. Crystal Mogensen, Director of The Maa Trust. They support girls from the Maasai community to stay in school to avoid early marriage. Those girls are now back at home.
One third of girls in The Maa Trust communities who have no formal education have had a child by the age of 19, compared with only 12% among those who have been to secondary school. 54% of women here say that their first pregnancy was unintended. For these women, education is crucial and family planning represents critical, basic healthcare.
In the weeks before the March lockdown, The Maa Trust delivered family planning services to 187 women. These ranged from a 3-month contraceptive injection to a 5-year implant. Now during lockdown, the need for family planning is greater than ever But the Trust have had to cancel medical camps, community meetings, a mother-daughter programme and backpack nurse activities. The upheaval is having a significant impact on access to family planning information and services.
The UN estimates that lockdown-related disruption could leave 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to access modern contraceptives, leading to 7 million additional unintended pregnancies. Read their article here.
The uptake of family planning services funded through CHASE Africa partners in Kenya and Uganda has risen this year, despite current conditions. This shows the vital importance of ensuring services remain accessible by finding innovative ways of working.
The photo on the right, taken in February, shows one woman’s record after she received her 5-year conceptive implant. Thanks to you, our donors and supporters, she will not be among the 47 million who lose access to contraception due to COVID-19.
“Women’s reproductive health and rights must be safeguarded at all costs… the services must continue, the supplies must be delivered, and the vulnerable must be protected and supported”, says Dr. Natalia Kanem, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund.
So what are CHASE Africa and partners doing to ensure that services continue? We are doing our best to ensure our dedicated Community Health Workers continue to go door to door during lockdown to provide essential advice, support and services to women at this time when they need it most. Our COVID-19 appeal enables each partner to purchase personal protective equipment so they can sustain their essential household visits. We are still welcoming new donations to the appeal – please click here now.