Prof. Josiah Mutihir, a Family Planning expert, says the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted access to family planning information and services worldwide.
Mutihir spoke as Guest Speaker on a Zoom Meeting on “Why Access to Contraception is Critical in Covid-19 Response” , organised by the Development Communications Network (DevComs) on Friday in Asaba.
According to him, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, families are compelled to stay home, day and night, for periods of between one to 12 weeks depending on the country or state, hence facilitating intimacy.
He noted that as at April 22 over 182,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been reported globally and that health systems have concentrated on the curbing the spread of the virus.
He said though the pandemic has had and still has enormous effects on all economies worldwide, individuals, families, communities have been hit by poor resources to meet basic needs including feeding.
“This lockdown has brought the husband and wife or spouses face to face for long periods. Idleness has set in and increased sexual desires and activity result.
“Where the woman is not protected, unwanted pregnancy is likely the outcome in most instances where the woman is still in the reproductive age and is not on any method of contraception,” he said.
He, however, observed that there were other important health issues with far reaching consequences that cannot be ignored, notably these include family planning and reproductive health.
According to him, the need for family planning does not disappear during a pandemic and therefore should not be ignored or neglected.
“Already, there has been the disruption of supply chains of contraceptive commodities, closure of health clinics providing FP information, counselling and public fear about visiting health facilities at this time of lockdown.
“The gains in uptake of modern FP methods in the country over the years is likely to be lost during the pandemic with serious short, medium and long-term consequences.
“Family planning is a life-saving intervention mitigating increased morbidity and mortality resulting from unintended pregnancies.
“It is estimated that a 10 per cent proportional decline in the use of contraceptive methods, caused by reduced access worldwide, will result in additional 49 million women with unmet need for FP, and 15 million unintended pregnancies within a year”.
Mutihir, therefore, recommended that adequate and clear information for the public on family planning methods, using telehealth, particularly the natural and other methods for practice at a time of dire need when the other methods cannot be accessed.
He said that there should be public enlightenment to sensitise the people on availability of contraceptive methods in the pharmacies, which are open during the lockdown.
“Relevant authorities should put accessing family planning service as essential service and should be included on the exemption list for restricted movements.
“Reproductive Health Department of Federal Ministry of Health should come up with strategies to provide commodities using the last-mile distribution network to get as far as possible to the grassroots at this time
“There should be free commodities in addition to free consumables at this time, to make unfettered access to all clients including Private Clinics, Not-for Profit Health Facilities, Private Pharmacies and others.
“Also, strategies or ways of reaching out to the sexually active persons in particular, with various contraceptive methods should be devised,’’ he said.
The FP expert said that the use of family planning Apps where nothing else is available to be used in combination with the condoms, spermicides and others should be encouraged.
“Family planning clinics should be re-opened and be treated as essential service, and clients seeking FP be allowed unfettered access and supported,’’ Mutihir said.