A recent study revealed that access to around 18.5 lakh abortions was compromised due to the restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, at all points of care, including public and private sector facilities and chemist outlets.
Conducted by Ipas Development Foundation (IDF), the study assessed the near-term impact of COVID-19 on abortion access in India in the first three months following the commencement of the lockdown (25 March 2020 to 24 June 2020). The model of the study strives to quantify the reduced access to abortions across three different points of care – public health facilities, private health facilities, and chemist outlets.
Vinoj Manning, CEO, Ipas Development Foundation said, “As COVID-19 turned into a pandemic, everyone’s complete attention and effort went to the containment of the virus, which quite naturally pushed a lot of health conditions and their management, including safe abortion, to the backseat. A majority of public health facilities and their staff are now focused on COVID-19 treatments and closures of private health facilities have compromised the access to safe abortions, which is a time-sensitive procedure. The study was conducted to get a clearer picture of how COVID-19 restrictions have affected women seeking safe abortion services and what are the areas that will need focused efforts in the days to come.”
The study estimated that access to abortion was highly compromised during Lockdown 1 and 2 (March 25 – May 3, 2020) in which around 59 per cent of women seeking an abortion could not access the services. However, with the unlock phase or the recovery period as mentioned in the study starting on June 1, the situation is expected to improve – with 33 per cent abortions being compromised in 24 days.
Speaking on the methodology, Dr Sushanta Kumar Banerjee from Ipas Development Foundation mentioned, “We conducted telephonic surveys and consulted with several experts from FOGSI leadership and social marketing organisations like PSI India Private Limited. After careful analysis of the data received from them, we have concluded that of the 39 lakh abortions that would have taken place in three months, access to around 18.5 lakh was compromised due to COVID-19 restrictions.”
Ipas Development Foundation has issued some initial recommendations which include: rapid mapping of facilities for first and second trimester abortions, assessing facilities’ preparedness especially for second-trimester abortions, improving referral linkage and spread the word about the availability of the service, streamlining the supply chain for medical abortion drugs, and lastly, including mechanisms to offset additional travel and out of pocket expenditures.
The foundation is expected to hold consultations with other partners and key stakeholders to facilitate meaningful collaborations to ensure access to safe abortions.
Manning mentioned, “The most important takeaway of the study is not just the fact that 18.5 lakh women and girls who needed an abortion couldn’t get it in the last three months. What is even more important is that this study highlights the need for a specially designed and integrated recovery plan for improving abortion services at facilities. Many of these 18.5 lakh women will be coming into public and private hospitals seeking second trimester abortions and we should not be turning them away a second time.”