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Millions of Women Lose Birth Control Services in COVID-19

    2020/8/23

    The coronavirus health crisis has caused a major drop in birth control services, including abortions -- operations to end pregnancies. Millions of women and girls around the world are affected.

    Almost 2 million fewer women received the services between January and June of this year than in the same period last year. In India alone, the number was 1.3 million. Those are the findings of a new report from Marie Stopes International, or MSI. The organization provides family planning services in 37 countries.

    The organization says that, as a result, it expects 900,000 unplanned pregnancies, 1.5 million unsafe abortions and more than 3,000 birth-related deaths will take place around the world.

    Kathryn Church is Marie Stopes’ director of global evidence. She said those numbers will likely increase if the services are limited in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

    The World Health Organization says about 70 countries recently reported problems with family planning services during the COVID-19 crisis. And the U.N. Population Fund warned that the number of unintended pregnancies worldwide could reach much higher, up to 7 million.

    Lockdowns, travel restrictions, limited supplies

    Health workers said lockdowns, travel restrictions, limited supplies and fear of COVID-19 infection have prevented many women and girls from seeking such services.

    A large increase of pregnancies among teenage girls was reported in Kenya. Some girls there used broken glass, sticks and other sharp objects to try to end their pregnancies. The Women Promotion Center reported two girls died of their injuries. Others were left unable to reproduce.

    In the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam, a major birthing hospital was turned into a COVID-19 treatment center.

    The supply for birth control fell by almost 50 percent in West Africa compared to the same period last year, said the International Planned Parenthood Federation, or IPPF.

    “I’ve never seen anything like this apart from countries in conflict,” said Diana Moreka. She is with the MAMA Network that connects women and girls to care across 16 African countries.

    A pedestrian walks past a sign pasted on a sidewalk in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. Millions of women and girls globally have lost access to contraceptives, abortion services and related care because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP)
    A pedestrian walks past a sign pasted on a sidewalk in Johannesburg, South Africa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. Millions of women and girls globally have lost access to contraceptives, abortion services and related care because of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP)

    In Haiti, the health ministry reported a 74 percent drop in births at medical centers in May compared to the same period last year. Many women are having babies at home but any resulting deaths there are not reported.

    Some countries did not consider family planning services as necessary during the health crisis. In Romania, Daniela Draghici of the IPPF European group said many hospitals refused to provide abortions.

    “The impact in some cases is like what used to happen to young women during Communism, to get an abortion from somebody who claims to be a medical provider ... and pray,” she said.

    India lists abortion as a necessary service under lockdown. But many do not know that, says Dr. Shwetangi Shinde. She is part of the India Safe Abortion Youth Advocates organization.

    As the lockdown continues, many women in India will face more costly and complex late-term abortions. Shinde told of a Mumbai woman who was unable to find a pregnancy test after the lockdown started in March. By the time the woman came to her care, her pregnancy was too far along to abort.

    Women’s health providers have looked for other solutions such as telemedicine, home deliveries of birth control medicine and home-based medical abortions.

    But Marion Stevens, director of the South Africa-based Sexual & Reproductive Justice Coalition, said it is harder now as thousands of healthcare workers have been infected with the coronavirus.

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    The Associated Press reported this story. Hai Do adapted the story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    global - adj. involving the entire world

    lockdown - n. restricted access as a security measure

    delivery - n. the act of taking something to a person or place