‘COVID-19 May Increase Unintended Pregnancies, Unsafe Abortion’

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Martins Ifijeh

Health experts have raised the alarm that the COVID-19 pandemic may increase unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions in Nigeria.
Speaking during a webinar organised by the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists, Nigeria recently to commemorate this year’s World Population Day, the experts said the COVID-19 lockdown prevented many women and girls from accessing family planning services.

Sharing his thoughts, the former Country Director, Ipas Nigeria, Dr. Ejike Oji, said some women who became pregnant during the lockdown and have had the number of children of their choice, would resort to unsafe abortion, adding that young girls caught up in the same scenario may end up with unsafe abortion.

He said: “This would have a severe consequence on maternal health. There is the need for increased use of modern contraceptive methods in preventing unplanned pregnancies.

“We are worried that seven or eight months from now after the lockdown, there would be a lot of unintended pregnancies. Some women will say, well, the pregnancy has come; we would keep it, especially women in wedlock. But some of them would want to terminate the pregnancy in an unsafe way.

“Remember that 38 percent of women who have unsafe abortions are married people. Some married women would say, I don’t want to have any other child and that would lead to terminations that are not safe and that would have severe consequences out of it. So with adolescents.
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“There is no doubt that there would be unintended pregnancies and a lot of unsafe abortions are going to happen. Certainly, it is something we are going to expect.”

Oji called for innovative ways to making family planning commodities available to women and girls despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Listing other way forward, he said, “We need to develop strategies to live with the virus pending the discovery of vaccine. We need to develop other ways of offering family planning services to women and girls. The use of technology is being canvassed and the use of motor cycles to supply commodities to women.

“I understand the challenges of funding because
most state governments had passed their budget before the pandemic struck. The opportunity cost of the pandemic is huge and going to affect women’s health and rights.

“However, we need to reduce the rate of transmission of the virus and hospitalization to avoid overwhelming the health system.
“The National Assembly has the wherewithal to redirect resources and money budgeted for family planning should be released to buy commodities.”

On his part, the Assistant Reps/Head, Lagos Liaison, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Omolaso Omosehin, blamed the rise of unintended pregnancies and its attendant consequences on delay in the distribution of family planning commodities during the lockdown.
He said, “There was a delay in the distribution of commodities. It is quite unfortunate. Also, many women and girls are afraid of going to the hospital. It is a major problem.”

He noted that from UNFPA’s study, more than 47 million women could lose access to contraception in 114 low- and middle-income countries owing to disruptions to health services occasioned by the multiple impacts of the pandemic.