Will Sexual and Reproductive Health services buckle under the pressure caused by COVID-19?
Millions of young South African women and girls seeking Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services will be left stranded, as COVID-19 gobbles up all the public health resources. Siyakwazi Youth Network has noted with concern the limitations that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on young women and girls’ access to SRH services.
COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health because health facilities are focusing more on the Coronavirus. This has resulted in little or no assistance for the young women seeking SRH services where the attention and resources are reprioritised towards the management of this pandemic.
The lockdown has further restricted young people’s access to SRH service. Young people are complaining that access to condoms has not been easy during the lockdown, even the retail shops in the communities have been running out of stock. “Family planning was easily available in the clinics before the Coronavirus and the lockdown. Now it has become a challenge because these places are about COVID-19 screening and testing only”, lamented a young person from Siyakwazi Youth Network.
The consequences of restrictive measures designed to arrest the spread of the virus unwittingly led to increases in unwanted teenage pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections. Therefore, the reduced availability of SRH services for young people, including psychosocial support, will put young people - particularly pregnant women - at risk. This amounts to a direct violation of their dignity and human rights. Even the Gauteng Health MEC, Dr Bandile Masuku, acknowledged the negative effects that the COVID-19 lockdown has brought on pregnant women.
Another grave challenge faced by young people seeking SRH services is the fear of contracting infection at the clinic. Health facilities have become the hot spots of infection. The Coronavirus has infected a number of healthcare workers. This makes it difficult to attend regular medical check-ups in healthcare facilities. People choose to stay at home than risk contracting the virus in a clinic setting.
Siyakwazi Youth Network would like to invite the private sector and all civil society organisations to join us as we make a call to government to provide leadership and develop a clear strategy to address SRHR and other critical health issues during the COVID-19 response. We strongly recommend government to integrate SRH services with other essential health services. In this way, the sexual and reproductive health services and the uptake thereof will not cave in under the burden of COVID-19.
Partners in Sexual Health encourages members of the Siyakwazi Youth Network to do their own research and write about SRHR and other social issues affecting them in their daily lives. However, the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the blogs belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to Partners in Sexual Health, Siyakwazi Youth Network or any of its partner organisations.