Manila, Philippines -- With the threats of the more infectious COVID-19 Delta variant and the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country, UNFPA, United Nations Population Fund in the Philippines Philippines urges its partners to ensure the continuity of sexual and reproductive health, and gender-based violence protection and response services.
COVID-19 surge threatens services to women and young people
A recent assessment conducted by UNFPA Philippines shows that high COVID-19 cases reported are found in major urban areas. These areas are also end-referral facilities providing critical sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services such as Maternal Health Services, Family Planning, and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Protection and Response Services. Fifty-four provinces and cities are currently in the highest alert level for COVID-19 cases or Alert Level 4, while 28 provinces and cities are in Alert Level 3, and 27 provinces and cities are in alert level 2 across the 17 regions in the country.
The facilities in these major urban areas serve as: catchment facilities for both low-risk and high-risk pregnancies from nearby provinces and regions; a major source of long-acting family planning commodities of the majority of women in lower-income brackets, and family planning services to teenage mothers to prevent repeat pregnancies; and provide life-saving care and support to GBV survivors including clinical management of rape, and mental health and psychosocial support services.
With the COVID-19 surge this year, the capacity of the said facilities to provide critical services to women and young people is strained, as attention and resources including health and social workers might have been diverted to respond to COVID-19 cases and vaccination demands.
A study conducted by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and UNFPA in 2020 reveals that the COVID-19 pandemic may indirectly affect the increase in the annual maternal deaths and unintended pregnancies compared with the pre-COVID years. Intimate partner, sexual, and physical violence against women and girls is also estimated to increase by 20%. However, many of such cases will be unreported, as many of them are likely to be trapped with their abusers at home.
Ensure uninterrupted services for women and young people amid the surge
The increasing COVID-19 cases also pushes the government to implement mobility restrictions or community quarantines, which may hinder women and young people from accessing sexual and reproductive services and information they need or report cases of GBV.
To mitigate the potential negative consequences as revealed by the previous study, UNFPA calls on government, and non-government partners to reinforce policies on ensuring availability of maternal health, family planning including supplies, and GBV protection and response information and services, which adapts to the COVID-context including the availability of helplines, clear referral pathways, among others. Such services should also integrate health, psychosocial support, case management, security, and socio-economic support especially to victim-survivors of gender-based violence. These life-saving mechanisms should also reach the community level.
Furthermore, due to the risks associated with adolescent pregnancies, health facilities are urged to consider them as priority cases and ensure the provision of appropriate services without discrimination, especially on areas where adolescents are not allowed to go out under the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) rulings.
Ensuring minimum beds and staffing in OB wards for either COVID-positive or negative pregnant women in facilities, with high COVID-19 cases, remains critical and life-saving. Since pregnancy increases the risk of severe COVID-19 illness, pregnant women are also recommended to get vaccinated by discussing it with their health care providers.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain the access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services in the Philippines, leaving women and young people more vulnerable. Sustained attention and support to women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health choices and rights, and freedom from violence are equally important as we continue to fight against COVID-19,” Dr. Leila Joudane, UNFPA Country Representative in the Philippines, emphasizes.
For enquiries, contact: Dr. Michael Singh, Assistant Representative -OIC, at firstname.lastname@example.org
UNFPA is the lead UN agency for delivering a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled. UNFPA reaches millions of women and young people in 155 countries and territories, including the Philippines.
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