The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to result in increased pregnancies, and a resultant increase in population as well as unsafe abortions, given the lack of access for women to the government’s reproductive health schemes during this period, according to a policy paper of the Population Foundation of India (PFI) released on Saturday.
The UNICEF had declared a forecast earlier that the highest number of births during a nine-month pandemic period would take place in India.
The New York-based Guttmacher Institute recently released an estimate of the potential impact of Covid-19 on provision of sexual and reproductive health services (SRH services) in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) and had estimated a 20-per cent decline in use of reversible contraceptive methods in these countries due to reduced access. This would result in additional 49 million women with an unmet need for modern contraceptives, and an additional 15 million unintended pregnancies over the course of a year, it has estimated.
Taking into account data from 1.6 billion women of reproductive age across 132 LMICs, the study said that a decline of 10 per cent in coverage of pregnancy-related care and newborn health care would result in additional 1.7 million women giving birth and 2.6 million newborns experiencing major complications due to lack of care required. Due to lockdowns, which are forcing clinics to close or if abortion is considered a nonessential service, an additional 3.3 million unsafe abortions would occur in LMICs over the course of a year, it said.
Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, said: “Some of the biggest concerns during the pandemic is an increase in pregnancies, and subsequently the population, simply because women in the country will have limited or no access to contraception. Especially in small towns and rural areas, all frontline healthcare workers – ASHAs and ANMs, who were primarily engaged to service women’s health care and reproductive health — have been pressed into service for Covid-19.”
Besides unplanned unwanted pregnancies, women’s overall reproductive health and child health are also major concerns during this period, she said.
A study conducted by PFI for the period 2015-31 estimated that effective family planning interventions can prevent 2.9 million infant deaths and save 1.2 million maternal lives. Availability of quality family planning services can prevent 206 million unsafe abortions in India during the same period, it found.
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