New Delhi: Millions of women and girls from around the world lost access to contraceptives and abortion services in the first half of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, a new study finds. Of them, over a million are in India alone.
The study, by Marie Stopes International (MSI), which provides abortion and contraceptive services worldwide, has found that India is currently the worst hit country, as its stringent lockdown measures led to 1.3 million women losing access to contraceptives and abortion procedures.
The report estimates that there will be an additional million unsafe abortions, an additional 650,000 unintended pregnancies and 2,600 more maternal deaths in India due to the lack of access to MSI services alone from January to June.
Dr Rashmi Ardey, director of clinical services at MSI’s India programme, noted in the report that “women are bearing the brunt of this global calamity”.
“This pandemic has strained healthcare services all over the world, but sexual and reproductive healthcare was already so under prioritised that once again women are bearing the brunt of this global calamity,” she said.
“Women’s needs do not suddenly stop or diminish during an emergency — they become greater. And as a doctor, I have seen only too often the drastic action that women and girls take when they are unable to access contraception and safe abortion,” she added.
Abortion clinics closed, pills out of stock at pharmacies
In a survey commissioned with Ipsos MORI, the MSI found that almost a third of respondents in India seeking an abortion said the clinic in their area was closed and 9 per cent reported a wait time of more than five weeks.
The survey, across India, the UK and South Africa, was based on a sample of 1,000 women per country, aged between 16 and 50 years, who were asked about their experiences and awareness of sexual and reproductive healthcare before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India also found that the pandemic has resulted in shortage of abortion pills in several states. Its study revealed that only 2 per cent of the pharmacies in Haryana, 1 per cent in Punjab, 2 per cent in Tamil Nadu and 6.5 per cent in Madhya Pradesh had them in stock. Delhi fared better at 34 per cent.
A study conducted by Quilt.Al found a 48 per cent and 14 per cent increase in searches for abortion pills and at-home methods of abortion since March in cities and districts, respectively. This is despite abortion being listed as an essential service during lockdown.
The MSI, which provides its services in 37 countries, says in its report 1.9 million fewer women worldwide accessed its services between January and June this year as compared to the same period last year. The MSI report further predicts that this will cause 900,000 unintended pregnancies, 1.5 million more unsafe abortions and over 3,000 maternal deaths globally.
The study notes that many women now have second-trimester pregnancies because they couldn’t find reproductive healthcare and attention in time. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) had earlier said around 47 million women could lose access to contraception, leading to 7 million unintended pregnancies.