Pandemic severely impacted maternal health: Experts

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A panel of high-level experts from prominent organisations on Friday emphasised the need for expanding contraceptive choice and optimising access to available contraceptive methods, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

The panel discussion was organised on International Day of Action for Women’s Health, saw participation of the Population Foundation of India, Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in India (FOGSI) and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health participated in a webinar to discuss why effective reproductive health for women is the need of the hour.

The webinar, led by Population Foundation of India, underscored the requirement for an increase in the overall basket of contraceptives for women in India.

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Studies have shown that maternal health has been severely impacted by the pandemic, with pregnant women unable to access routine antenatal check-ups. Last year, researchers estimated that 26 million couples in India faced disruptions in access to family planning. Unintended pregnancies place major economic pressure on families and can lead to unsafe abortions and maternal deaths, experts said.

Dr Jaydeep Tank, general secretary of FOGSI, said, “Globally, more women and children may die due to a lack of access to health services than Covid itself. If we accept the fact that contraception saves lives, then it stands to reason that the lack of access to contraception is detrimental to women’s health and their lives. Nearly 70 percent of frontline health workers are women, and not enough attention has been paid to them and their reproductive needs.”

Thirteen per cent of women of reproductive age – 15-49 years – in India have an unmet need for family planning. This means that women, who want to avoid pregnancy, do not have access to modern contraceptive methods.

The availability and accessibility of contraceptive choices have been further inhibited by the ongoing pandemic due to restrictions in supply chain and reductions in essential services, including sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Dr Beena Joshi, deputy director of ICMR’s National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health and principal investigator for the study, ‘Health Technology Assessment of Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives in India’, said the government could consider a phased roll-out of the long-acting reversible contraceptive, Nexplanon, as a cost-effective step to expand the basket of contraceptives at this time.

“We must address inequities to rural women also having access to these methods. We need to have counselling and training on the management of side-effects and follow-up and track mechanisms to ensure there are no adverse effects,” she added.

Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India, highlighted the significance of expanding the basket of contraceptive choices.

“We pledge action in the direction of expanding the range and reach of contraceptives. It is a fundamental right of every woman to be able to choose from a variety of contraceptive choices. Women in countries like Thailand, Bangladesh and Indonesia have greatly benefited from the introduction of implants in the public health system given its long-term efficacy of 3-5 years. Implants and other long-acting reversible contraceptives are particularly relevant in the pandemic context, where disruption in services have restricted women’s access to reproductive health services,” she added.





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