In times of crisis, we know that women and girls are often disproportionately affected. Sexual and reproductive health care may be neglected or difficult to access, and disrupted supply chains may reduce access to contraceptives and safe abortion supplies. All these factors can in turn drive more people to seek unsafe abortions.
Ipas is working to ensure that pregnancy care, including abortion care, remains an essential health service during the coronavirus outbreak. Abortion care is a time-sensitive service that cannot be significantly deferred without profound consequences for women and their families.
You can help us guarantee that women still have the power to make their own reproductive health choices during the pandemic. Our COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund supports innovative, fast-moving work to ensure that abortion remains an essential health service.
Health workers across India whose pre-pandemic work revolved around providing reproductive health are still working to keep those services available whenever possible. Many are also stepping up to provide COVID-related services as well—even when it means putting their personal lives on hold. Here are three workers making this above-and-beyond effort:
Hilda Lakra, an auxiliary nurse midwife trained in comprehensive contraceptive care by the Ipas Development Foundation (IDF), wants to ensure that women continue to get contraceptive services during the pandemic. She had planned to get married on May 1, but postponed her wedding and has been staying in the staff quarters of a community health center in Jharkhand. She’s also been providing health services at shelter homes where hundreds of migrants are quarantined and assessed for symptoms of COVID-19.
Irani Bora Rajkhowa is affiliated with IDF’s program for young women in Assam. She is well-acquainted with the stigma surround abortion care and now is fighting against COVID stigma. When a family in Sonari village returned from a visit to Mumbai, residents were panicked, fearing that the family might be spreading the virus. She worked to educate villagers about the virus and to get COVID tests for the family (which were negative). She is now working to track and monitor people with a travel history, getting those with symptoms to testing centers—and she’s still supervising community health workers who assist with home deliveries of essential contraceptives.
Dr. Radhey Shyam Dautaniya is an IDF-trained abortion provider, but has now been called upon to work fulltime to conduct home screenings for COVID-19 in Jaipur, Rajasthan, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. He married only months ago, but because his work now exposes him to a lot of people, his wife is staying with her parents as he works round-the-clock to provide the vital screenings.
The first three months of India’s national lockdown to combat the spread of COVID-19 compromised abortion access for an estimated 1.85 million women, according to a new study by the Ipas Development Foundation (IDF).
“Our response integrates all the needs of the woman so that she can continue to access reproductive health care during the pandemic,” says Ipas Malawi Director Pansi Katonga. Read about the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in Malawi and Ipas’s comprehensive solution.
Ipas is working to give health providers the information, training and supplies they need—including personal protective equipment (PPE)—so they can safely offer abortion and contraceptive care during the pandemic. In Nepal, Ipas supports the government’s COVID-19 response by distributing PPE to health centers and hospitals—and directly to Female Community Health Volunteers who connect women with health information and referrals.
Ipas Nepal has focused on PPE deliveries to extremely remote and isolated districts where health workers face a particularly acute need for protective equipment. At Mangalbare Primary Health Care Center in Nepal’s Ilam District, for example, health providers felt unsafe giving women contraceptive implants because they lacked PPE, and so they had started only offering condoms and contraceptive pills. One provider told the Ipas Nepal team she had young children at home and simply couldn’t risk infection. After Ipas delivered boxes of PPE to the facility, this same provider reported she felt happier and safer—and the center had restarted implant services and already provided four women with implants within just two days.
Abortion is legally restricted in Bolivia and many women seek to end unwanted pregnancies themselves using abortion pills—but they need accurate information on how to safely use the medications.
Recognizing the possible harm women and girls will face if they don’t have accurate information, Ipas Bolivia has been training volunteer “community agents” who provide women with the information they need to make safe decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people seeking information has only increased.
“A woman who decides to end a pregnancy will do it, without regard to any restrictions, quarantine or not,” one community agent says. Agents report they can continue providing information easily via WhatsApp and other online channels during the crisis—thereby reducing the harms women may face.
Ipas is now developing infographics for agents to use that explain how to prevent unwanted pregnancy and deal with sexual violence during pandemic lockdowns. For a broader audience, Ipas Bolivia is also sharing information—like this Facebook post—over social media about sexual and reproductive rights, assuring people their rights do not cease during a quarantine.
MAY 20, 2020
In Bangladesh, Ipas supports 28 health care facilities for Rohingya refugees in the Cox’s Bazaar district, one of the world’s largest refugee camps. For the 900,000 refugees living in the camps, these facilities provide access to family planning services, postabortion care and essential and legal abortion services— known as menstrual regulation (MR) in Bangladesh.
The humanitarian response directive for the Rohingya camps initially did not designate MR as a “critical” service, which led to the temporary suspension of MR services at six of the camps. Travel restrictions were also imposed and only people working in critical services were able to travel. This meant that, at the remaining 22 Ipas-supported clinics, health-care providers were required to sleep away from their families, in or near the clinics, in order not to break the camp’s travel ban so that they can continue offering refugees reproductive health services.
But after weeks of advocacy by Ipas Bangladesh, all clinics are once again in operation. The Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner and the WHO office in Cox’s Bazaar have recognized reproductive health care workers in the facilities as critical providers and have issued vehicle passes to them so they can continue to provide reproductive health services to Rohingya women and girls.
DR. SAYED RUBAYET, Ipas Bangladesh Director
Ipas Bangladesh has been working to provide Rohingya refugees with reproductive health services, including menstrual regulation since 2017. It is important to ensure these services continue to be available during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are pleased that the government has recognized that reproductive health services are critical to the health and well-being of women.”
May 5, 2020