COVID-19 has had an unprecedented global impact, causing widespread loss in terms of lives and infections, a paralysis of social networks and health systems, and widespread economic shutdowns. The lockdown measures have caused significant disruptions to essential services and supplies, placing immense pressure on global health systems.
For sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, interruptions in information and service delivery are estimated to have a serious impact on women’s health and well-being. Studies estimate that disruptions in access to contraceptive services for a period of 6 months, would lead to approximately 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries not being able to meet their contraceptive needs, and potentially 7 million unintended pregnancies in the coming months; or a 10% reduction in use of spacing methods, and 49 million women with unmet need, and 15 million unintended pregnancies. It is difficult to find global estimates of the effects on adolescents’ SRH outcomes due to unavailability of meta-data on SRH needs of the young unmarried population, an invisibility largely on account of stigma around pre-marital sexual activity. The absence of adolescent SRH services from “essential” health services during COVID-19 amplifies this undocumented need.
A previous commentary in this journal (December 2019) provocatively discussed the potential role of technology to meet SRH needs of vulnerable groups like adolescents. That commentary could not be more relevant today, as the conjectured role of technology and many of the concerns raised have become unambiguously pertinent and real. Pioneering use of technology in response to the pandemic has created novel situations around delivering health care while adhering to norms around physical distancing. Technological innovations in responding to COVID-19 have ushered in new possibilities in health information and service delivery, that can conceivably be extended to adolescent SRH, both in addressing the immediate adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH) needs and in transforming the paradigms of implementation of ASRH programmes in the long-run. We previously noted challenges associated with digital technologies, such as inequities in digital access, replication of social stratifications and prejudices online, and possibilities of harm and cyber-crimes especially for vulnerable groups. Reflecting further, we revisit the promise and the cautions with respect to technology, requiring more consideration today.
Read the full article here.