Covid-19 And Unplanned Pregnancies: The Silent Pandemic — Dr John Teo

By CodeBlue | 04 May 2020

Unplanned pregnancies add significantly to the economic difficulty in many families that are already in dire straits with the Covid-19 pandemic.

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On 27th April 2020, the United Nations Population Fund published a technical note. As of March 2020, there were an estimated 450 million women using modern contraceptives across 114 priority low- and middle-income countries.

It is estimated that between 13 million and 51 million women, who otherwise would have used modern contraceptives, will be unable to continue in the Covid pandemic due to disruptions.

This may result in 325,000 unplanned pregnancies for disruptions of three months’ lockdown. It can also be up to a staggering 15 million unintended pregnancies if disruptions occur up to 12 months.

Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO) is set to end on the 12th May 2020 with a total duration of two months.

Disruptions to women’s access to family planning is significant due to many reasons, not only during the MCO but in the ensuing months. Among them are:

  • Closure of family planning clinics such as LPPKN.
  • Shortened opening hours of private clinics and pharmacies.
  • Restriction of movements and women defaulting on follow-up
  • Public facilities overwhelmed with Covid pandemic activities
  • Lack of personal protective equipment by health care staff to provide services safely.
  • Supply chain disruptions due to closure of interstate borders and stoppage of flights
  • Financial constrains due to joblessness and need to allocate funds for food supplies and other needs.

Why Are Unplanned Pregnancies So Important?

We know that almost 50% of unplanned pregnancies will end up in abortions, many of them unsafe, threatening women’s health and lives.

Unofficial local data estimated that annually about 90,000 abortions occur in Malaysia. Deaths had resulted from unsafe abortions when Malaysia reported five deaths from illegal pills sold online in 2015 & 2017.

Unplanned births tend to have much higher complication rates with both mothers and babies, associated with deaths on occasions. Baby dumping cases go unabated.

Unplanned pregnancies also add significantly to the economic difficulty in many families that are already in dire straits with the Covid pandemic.

With the mounting economic stress and tensions within families, unplanned pregnancies can also be associated with intimate partner and domestic violence, further making safety and circumstances even more desperate for many women.

The effects of lack of ability to use modern contraceptives and its devastating outcomes affect certain communities disproportionately.
In particular, the urban and rural poor, low level of education, single mothers, youths, disabled and immigrants.

Malaysian use of modern contraceptive methods had been stagnant for the past 20 years with the use of modern contraception at a lowly 34%. Certainly the Covid pandemic is going to decrease the level of usage, increasing significantly the risks of unplanned pregnancies and its associated ill effects. It also threatens the lives of many women and disrupts their families’ ability to survive this pandemic.

The government and all health care providers must step up efforts in mitigating not only the Covid pandemic, but also to ensure all women can access contraception to protect themselves and their families.

We must ensure that:

  • All family planning clinics are allowed to open and all other clinics to continue offering contraceptives services.
  • Supply chain disruption must be tackled rapidly with contraceptives listed as essential drugs.
  • Availability of trained providers must be make available continuously, including online access.
  • Contraceptives are the most cost-efficient anti-poverty tool, as it allows women and their families to rebuild lives and work towards financial security.
  • It is pertinent then that extra efforts must be made to ensure the marginalised and under-served women and their families are prioritised in accessing contraceptive needs as we fight this Covid pandemic.

Unplanned pregnancy is a silent pandemic that is set to annihilate women and their families if we continue to ignore its devastating effects nationwide.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.
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