By Paulin Tra – Technical Manager, Performance, Knowledge and New Technology, COVID-19 Task Force Member
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting countries across the entire planet, including in our region.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa was reported in Nigeria on 27 February 2020. Since then, the virus has spread throughout the region. Even though Africa proved wrong the alarmist forecasts of contamination, it is however worrying that the measures taken by 42 sub-Saharan African countries to limit the spread of the virus have had negative effects on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services delivery to vulnerable and underserved populations.
Several IPPF members in the Africa Region – Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Malawi and Sierra Leone, among others – have indicated that they are part of their respective Ministry of Health COVID-19 taskforces and are contributing to the national response. To avoid the spread of false beliefs about COVID-19 in low literacy communities, sensitization activities are provided regularly by these member associations through different approaches, including adapted information, education and communications messages, various communication channels and social media platforms.
IPPF’s Ethiopian member, FGAE, complemented the Government’s efforts to raise awareness about COVID-19 by creating a short video in Amharic that communicates the importance of taking preventive measures to stop the spread of the disease. In South Sudan, IPPF’s member association is working closely with different media houses to increase public awareness on the impact of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in the country. Our Togo member developed a mobile application to help Youth access credible sexual and reproductive health information.
SRH service delivery
In the Africa region, more than 60% of SRH services are provided through non-static service delivery point models. In many African countries, the lockdown measures were not very strict. Consequently, the COVID-19 crisis did not stop all SRHR service delivery, but it did slow things down significantly. Member associations adapted strategies to ensure SRHR service delivery safely. Many have purchased COVID-19 prevention and hygiene kits, including facemasks, hand sanitizers and gloves and distributed these to their staff and volunteers. UMATI, our MA in Tanzania has continued to provide SRH services through outreach initiatives, ensuring that group counselling sessions are conducted outside, in an open space to allow social distancing. In Malawi, our MA (FPAM) is working with United Nations colleagues to allow community-based service providers to offer temporary methods of contraception and refer SRH clients.
Despite the challenge of COVID-19, the MA of Togo, ATBEF, has not been deterred but has also continued to provide SRH services to refugees. Its mobile clinics have been extended to cover peripheral areas of Lomé such as Gbadago, Ahanoukpoé and Agoè with particular attention to refugees living in a camp set-up by the Government in partnership with the UN.
Despite these efforts by IPPF member associations, a basic analysis of the first quarter service statistics for some of these MAs highlights a significant decrease in SRH services year-on-year. A 30% to 40% decrease was observed among major members such as Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Uganda.
CSE & Youth Centres
Government closure of schools in many countries has affected the delivery of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools and SRH services in youth centres, henceforth resulting in low client turnout. Our Namibian member association has not been able to provide SRHR services to leaners at schools, but it has been able to keep up with distancing requirements sessions outside of school – though they would normally have 40 or more participants but now can have only eight. IPPF’s Sao Tome collaborative partners were forced to suspend their youth centre services that provide SRH services to students in three schools.
Updates from member associations are showing evidence of an increase in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and domestic violence. IPPF’s MA in DRC received 275 cases in just one month with 98% of the cases reported by women and girls. To counter this, member associations are creating national and community awareness. They have used news releases (IPPF’s MA in Ghana, PPAG), newspaper articles (our Mauritius collaborative partner), community prevention activities (Togo) and women champions and peer leaders offering mobile phone counselling (RHU, Uganda) to combat SGBV.
Knowing the important role young people can play during the COVID-19 pandemic, our Youth Action Movement (YAM) from more than 10 member associations in the Africa Region are supporting social media posts on COVID-19 prevention and developing videos on the prevention of unplanned pregnancies.
IPPF’s Africa Regional Office has put in place a regional COVID-19 Support Team in March 2020. We are offering support to member associations in negotiating with donors for flexibility in the use of funds designated towards restricted projects, to better respond to the impact of COVID-19. IPPF brought forward a second tranche of core funding for members for the same reason, and through that we are further supporting members in revising their annual programs and budgets to focus on their pandemic response. Technical advisors continue to share with the member associations their expertise in proposal writing with a view to attracting extra funds during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have upcoming webinars with member associations as well and we will be focussing on COVID-19 response in these events.
We have also joined in partnership with the Women’s Link Worldwide and Amnesty International Africa regional offices to launch guidelines for African Governments to ensure that their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic include specific protection for the rights of women and girls, and the most vulnerable and marginalized groups. The guidelines can be viewed here: Africa – Guidelines on the Protection of Women and Girls Rights during COVID-19.
And you can stay up to date on the work of the Taskforce through the actions and decisions page here: Actions and decisions from the COVID-19 Taskforce