This International Women’s Day, the South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists wishes to bring attention to the consequences of the disruptions to women’s access to healthcare, brought about by the pandemic.
According to the WHO, 40% of African countries have reported disruptions to sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services.
Disruptions to services related to pregnancy and childbirth have had dire consequences especially in South Africa where there has been a 3.4% rise in perinatal mortality[i]. A survey of 21 African countries by the WHO found that disruptions to reproductive health supplies have resulted in a 48%[ii] decrease in contraceptive use. In five provinces of South Africa, the rate of teenage pregnancies rose by 60%[iii] during the pandemic, according to a study by the Medical Research Council.
Provision of safe abortion services, a core component of universal healthcare, have been severely affected by the pandemic in many countries. With an estimated 25 million[iv] women resorting to unsafe abortion methods each year, often with tragic consequences, it is imperative that barriers to access are removed, and services are restored.
The risk of sexual violence faced by women and girls during the pandemic rose due to increased stresses associated with lockdown, financial uncertainty and the like. According to the latest analysis done in 2021, the WHO estimates that intimate partner violence accounts for 245 million[v] women and girls being subjected to sexual and/or physical violence. However, in 56% of countries in Africa, services to women who have experienced sexual violence have declined.
The pandemic has also brought about a widening of the socio-economic parity gap, pushing an increasing number or women and girls into extreme poverty. According to the WHO, globally around 247 million women are living on less than R25 per day[vi], with more than half of those women residing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Studies also reveal that employment among women dropped more sharply than among men[vii].
SASOG warns of the potential long-term implications that these disruptions could have on the women and calls on its members and government to heed the WHO’s call to ‘restore services to pre-pandemic levels and make major investments for stronger systems capable of withstanding health emergencies while ensuring continuity of key services’.
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