Mumbai: The world’s biggest lockdown to curb the novel coronavirus, imposed in March, had an unintended consequence: it broke family-planning services in India.
Marie Stopes International, or MSI, a global non-profit that helps women with contraception and safe abortion, estimates that disrupted services in India may lead to one million additional unsafe abortions, 650,000 unintended pregnancies and 2,600 maternal deaths, it said in a statement earlier this month.
This is because of a lack of access to MSI’s services alone, implying the nationwide numbers outside its network will be higher. India’s surging coronavirus outbreak is rapidly closing in on Brazil and is poised to overtake the Latin American nation as the world’s second-biggest flare-up.
“Coronavirus pandemic has been scary and contagious, which meant that women were too worried to go out and the health-care providers were not willing to give non-essential, non-time sensitive services,” said Rashmi Ardey, director of clinical services at MSI’s Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India. “This led to a pullback in family planning services.”
India’s pandemic containment efforts, like other countries, has sucked in nearly all public health-care resources, crowding out other health needs. However, the collateral damage will be felt more deeply in the world’s second-most populous nation in rising maternal deaths, deteriorating health of mothers and infants as well as economically hurting such families amid massive job losses.
The outbreak consumed India’s public sector doctors and nurses, which hurt sterilization procedures — the most preferred method of family planning among married Indian women, Ardey said. India’s army of community-level women health care workers, who are “big motivators” among those seeking reproductive services, have been diverted and enlisted for contact tracing, she said.
With India’s surging outbreak unlikely to free health-care workers anytime soon, the government should involve the private sector more in family planning services, Ardey said. Telemedicine can also be improved to provide some consultations.
The government stance that such services can be postponed also needs to change. “People are confined to their homes, so there’s a greater chance of unplanned pregnancies,” she said. “Neglecting family planning services, when they need it a lot more, is a great disservice to Indian women.” – Bloomberg