By Carra Anna | AP |
The callers were in tears. One by one, women in homes across rural Zimbabwe had a pleading question: When would family planning services return?
Lockdowns imposed to curb the coronavirus’ spread have put millions of women in Africa, Asia and elsewhere out of reach of birth control and other sexual and reproductive health needs.
Confined to their homes with their husbands and others, they face unwanted pregnancies and little idea of when they can reach the outside world again.
In these uncertain times, women “have to lock down their uterus,” Abebe Shibru, Zimbabwe country director for Marie Stopes International, told The Associated Press. “But there is no way in a rural area.”
Eighteen countries in Africa have imposed national lockdowns, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All but essential workers or those seeking food or health care must stay home for weeks, maybe longer. Rwanda, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to impose a lockdown, has extended it for two weeks, a possible sign of things to come.
Even where family planning remains available, providers say many women fear venturing out and being beaten by security forces and accused of defying the new restrictions.
Meanwhile, outreach services, the key to reaching rural women, have largely stopped to avoid drawing crowds and the risk of workers spreading the virus from one community to another.
The International Planned Parenthood Federation, or IPPF, in a new report Thursday says more than one in five member clinics around the world have closed because of the pandemic and related restrictions. More than 5,000 mobile clinics across 64 countries have closed.
Most are in South Asia and Africa, but Latin America and Europe have seen hundreds of closures as well.
From Pakistan to Germany to Colombia, IPPF members say they have scaled down HIV testing and gender-based violence response work and face shortages of contraceptives.
“They have needs that cannot wait,” IPPF director-general Alvaro Bermejo said of women in a statement, pleading for help from national governments to help provide personal protective equipment to allow for intimate care.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and death.
In Europe, 100 non-governmental groups on Wednesday called on governments to ensure reproductive health services during the pandemic, saying many facilities have sharply reduced them or shut down.