The global epidemic of COVID-19 is a wreaking havoc on a wide array of health, economic, social and personal decisions. However, what may be lost in the chaos among other effects and dangers is the specific impact on sexual and reproductive health and rights, both for people in Uganda and around the world. The government of Uganda, policymakers, providers and advocates must be aware of the broad links between the national outbreak response and sexual and reproductive health and rights in order to prepare to mitigate the impact.
Access to effective contraception is one of the most cost-effective interventions to reduce maternal mortality through preventing unintended pregnancy, thereby protecting an individual’s physical and mental health and it is important for people to be able to continue to access contraceptive information and services during the outbreak. Ensuring that people have access to the contraceptive services they need also reduces avoidable pressures on the health system to manage the consequences of unintended pregnancy.
As the entire country is in a lock-down, there is limited or no access to sexual and reproductive health services, as travel restrictions limit transportation options, the economic slowdown pushes many individuals into more precarious financial situations like stocking food and the first aid medical kit, and healthcare system capacity becomes increasingly limited. There remains a lot of worry about the baby -boom post-COVID- 19 season.
Assessing the post-COVID-19 era, the pandemic will affect aspects of our lives in many ways. As the coming weeks and months unfold, we will begin to understand better the impacts and effective responses to the outbreak. In broader public health discussions, sexual and reproductive health and rights can be overlooked. Outbreaks can heighten vulnerabilities of different population groups, accentuate gender inequities and lead to neglect of the needs and rights of the most marginalized, including women and girls, refugees, migrants, people living with disability and people living with HIV. The pressure on health services could disrupt routine maternity, contraceptive, abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services. Social and economic pressures may increase domestic and gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.
As much we appreciate the government for the stringent measures put up against the spread of this pandemic, some effects are already exhibited – pushing healthcare systems to their limits and compelling governments and healthcare institutions to make difficult and increasingly urgent decisions about how to deliver care while also curbing virus transmission – it is critical that responses to this crisis recognize that sexual and reproductive health services are essential, respecting people’s rights to make decisions about their bodily autonomy and integrity.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses particular threats to poor and marginalized women who face greater difficultly in accessing the SRHR services, resources, and access to quality health and social services. Women’s societal roles as caregivers, wives and mothers places them at greater risk in exacerbating the impact of COVID-19.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services should not be postponed. This time round, let us defy history, work toward international co-operation and pull together to develop inclusive, global views on how to learn from, resolve and come through this latest threat to health for all. As we are quarantined in our respective homes and other avenues, let us remember and prioritise several other women whose uteruses too need to be quarantined for the good of the nation.
The Writer is Founder & Executive Director
Rhythm of Life – Uganda.