When the pandemic hit our region in 2020, our programs navigated national states of emergency, travel restrictions and lockdowns, supply chain delays and breakdowns, new infection prevention protocols, widespread public misinformation, and many other challenges. Our priority is always to ensure our clients continue to access sexual and reproductive healthcare, wherever possible, while keeping our teams safe too.
The impacts of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health, gender equality and women’s empowerment are interconnected and complex. Physically accessing services becomes difficult, due to travel restrictions and lockdowns. A fear of catching COVID-19 also keeps people from seeking healthcare, and supply chain disruptions mean some contraception or methods aren’t available.
Meanwhile, the need for sexual and reproductive healthcare continues during the pandemic. Sexual and gender-based violence often increases during emergencies, and distressingly, there has been a clear and documented increase in violence against women and girls because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is estimated that a modest 10% decline in contraceptive service usage resulting from COVID-19 disruptions in low and middle-income countries will result in almost 49 million women having an unmet need for contraception, and over 15 million additional unintended pregnancies. In the Pacific Asia region, we have focused on mitigating these impacts on SRHR services. We have worked with government health departments to make sure sexual and reproductive health services are recognised as essential services during the pandemic. This has allowed our services to stay open and our teams travelling to those who need us more than ever.
Our three priority country programs of Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste have been hit by second and third waves of COVID-19 during 2021. In Timor Leste and PNG, vaccine provision has been slow outside major cities, and widespread myths and misconceptions are making progress difficult, meaning this crisis will not be resolved quickly.
With finite staff and budgets, governments and donors are having to make difficult choices to manage competing priorities. This more than ever highlights the importance of integrating sexual and reproductive health services, and increasing accessibility.
All our donors have been extremely supportive of programming adaptions we have made to work in the new COVID-19 context. For more details about how DFAT is supporting MSI and IPPF to address the SRHR implications of COVID-19 in the Asia Pacific, please see our RESPOND project.
The RESPOND project aims to prevent losses in access to sexual and reproductive healthcare as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the global MSI Reproductive Choices partnership, we have seen the devastating impact of the pandemic on women and girls around the world. But Despite the challenges facing both providers and clients throughout the crisis, the story we’ve seen is also one of resilience and adaptation.
Stories from the frontline
Read more about MSI frontline healthcare workers around the world, and how they are working hard to provide life-changing sexual and reproductive healthcare despite the pandemic.