New Delhi: The sale of condoms boomed after the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in on 25 March, with reports pegging the surge at 25 to 50 per cent.
However, industry data suggests a fall of 10-15 per cent in sales over April, which saw the lockdown extended for another 19 days. And it’s not condoms alone. Contraceptives across the board, including the emergency morning-after pills, have registered a sharp decline in sales during the lockdown, data accessed by ThePrint shows.
This dip, however, is not because locked down Indians are too bored for sex. Experts cite other reasons — the restrictions on public movement are keeping couples from reaching chemists and home delivery is not a feasible option for those living with parents. They also point out that many facilities providing family-planning services such as intrauterine devices shut down much before the lockdown kicked in.
This downward trend in contraceptive sales has stoked fears among experts that the ongoing lockdown might result in a large number of unwanted pregnancies and, possibly, even unsafe abortions.
Access to condoms difficult
Condoms and emergency morning-after pills that prevent pregnancy are available over the counter at pharmacies. The former can also be purchased off the shelf at some convenience stores.
Pharmacies and shops dealing in essential goods have been exempt from the lockdown since the start, with many stores also offering home delivery. But this exemption doesn’t seem to have eased contraceptive purchases in a society where discussions about sex still remain taboo.
Arjun Juneja, the chief operating officer at Mankind Pharma, which manufactures the condom brand Manforce and emergency contraceptive pill Unwanted 72, acknowledged there had been a dip in sales. “People might not have been able to replenish the stock… But yes, the sales of condoms and other contraceptive devices have fallen during the lockdown,” he said.
Rajiv Singhal, general secretary of the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), a lobby group representing 8.5 lakh chemists across the country, echoed the claim.
“The sales of drugs and devices across the contraception category has gone down during the lockdown,” he said. “From condoms to contraceptive pills, emergency pills and testing kits, the sales have plunged between 10 and 50 per cent across categories,” he added.
“The reason could be the restricted movement of individuals. People are not allowed to visit chemist shops without prescription and, for these products, no one will have one,” he said. “Also, there could be fears… that pharmacists are frontline workers who have chances of coming into contact with Covid-19 patients. They might be avoiding a visit to chemist shops.”
An industry-wide hit
Over the last one month, according to AIOCD data, the sales of Cipla’s I-pill and Mankind’s Unwanted 72 have fallen by over 55 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
The sales of once-daily contraceptive pills such as Suvidha (manufactured by Eskag Pharma), Khushi (Population Health Services India), Ovral (Pfizer), Femovan (Bayer Zydus Pharma), Intimacy Plus (Aristo Pharma) and Novelon (Organon India) plunged between 7 per cent and 50 per cent.
A similar trend was recorded with the sales of hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) produced by Bayer Zydus Pharma, HLL Life care, Bharat Serum and Vaccines, which recorded a decline of 36 per cent, 67 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively.
The sales of home pregnancy tests have plunged as well, but just by a little over 3 per cent. Among the popular brands, Mankind Pharma’s Prega News has registered a decline of 4 per cent, while the sales of Cipla’s Pregatest have fallen 53 per cent.
Even so, the industry believes sales of pregnancy tests will increase phenomenally. “After the lockdown, the sale of these test kits will go up for some weeks,” said an industry official working with a manufacturer of pregnancy kits. “Considering the dip in sales of contraception devices despite people staying at home, the chances of pregnancy are high,” the official added.
A bleak outlook
Apart from retail trade, experts fear the lockdown will also take a toll on the government’s family-planning measures.
Dr Anita Singh, a gynaecologist and infertility specialist based in Patna, said fewer patients had approached her for family-planning procedures during the lockdown.
“The perception is that you can only get out of the house for essential services. I think the majority of the women are of the belief that it is not an essential service and so are not reaching out to a facility,” she added.
The Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India (FRHS India), an NGO, conducted a study based on the scenario that family-planning services would be fully operational by September 2020.
The estimates it arrived at — based on data from the union ministry of health along with social marketing statistics and retail audit data — suggest as many as 2.56 crore couples may not be able to access contraception services until September.
On average, it suggests, the lockdown will interrupt the administration of 6.9 lakh sterilisation services, 9.7 lakh IUDs, 5.8 lakh doses of injectable contraceptives, 2.3 crore cycles of oral contraceptive pills, 9.2 lakh emergency contraceptive pills, and 40.6 crore condoms.
According to the study, this will likely result in an additional 23.8 lakh unintended pregnancies and 14.5 lakh abortions, of which 8.34 lakh might be carried out by quacks in the absence of access to a trusted medical facility.
‘People unable to reach chemists’
FRHS chief executive officer (CEO) V.S. Chandrashekhar said various medical facilities providing contraceptive procedures such as IUDs and sterilisation had closed before the lockdown even began in light of the Covid-19 threat.
“We don’t know when their services will resume, we’re hoping that their services may resume in June. But they may start resuming (only) in a limited and phased fashion and hopefully they will be back in September,” he added.
Asked about the dip in condom and pill purchases, Chandrashekhar echoed the same concern expressed by Singhal of AIOCD.
“Since the last many weeks, people going to buy contraceptives are not visibly sick nor do they have a prescription. They are often stopped by police personnel,” he said.