Message from the South Asia Region

By Nimisha Goswami – Senior Technical Advisor, Humanitarian, COVID-19 Task Force Member 

“Regularly visiting the local communities to provide contraceptives and other services during this COVID-19 pandemic is not easy. But I know that the need for SRH services at this time is very high as I too, belong to the same place. Cases of domestic violence since the lockdown has increased here and women are more in need of these services. I feel proud to be part of Family Planning Association of Bangladesh and contributing in such a meaningful way”- Ms. Rubina Sultana, Reproductive Health Promoter (RHP), FPA Bangladesh

Since January 2020, all countries in the IPPF South Asia region have witnessed the emergence and increase of COVID-19 cases. The response in the region is largely country-led but is also supported by the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and UN country team taskforce on COVID19 to coordinate and plan a joint regional response to the global pandemic.

As in other regions, the impact of the pandemic in South Asia on SRH services, information and commodities, including those related to contraception and menstrual health is immense.

Because of social distancing, lockdown and controlled mobility there has been an increase in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), unmet needs for contraception, restricted access to safe and comprehensive abortion care, compromised SRH services, and a lack of Comprehensive Sexuality Education. Groups including LGBTQI+, refugees, migrants, people living with disabilities, elderly, adolescents and young people and those living in conditions of extreme poverty are worst affected.

We are using regular regional updates to share inspiring stories of doctors, health workers and team members who are continuing to provide sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in these difficult times. Despite the threat from COVID-19, members are finding ways to provide SRHR services; through targeted operational hours of clinics, tele counselling and community outreach while maintaining social distancing. In spite of the innovations and initiatives like these by members, the last three months have seen an estimated 30-40% reduction in overall clinic service provision. 

IPPF members in South Asia are continuing to meet this challenge by changing the provision of SRHR services, reaching clients in new ways.

Telemedicine

Most IPPF members in South Asia have been using telemedicine, primarily teleconsultation, counselling on SGBV and other SRH related issues through their toll-free numbers. It’s beneficial not only to clients, but also to staff. The Afghanistan Family Guidance Association (AFGA) is providing technical support to midwives attending home deliveries through a toll-free Midwifery Helpline Center (MHL). IPPF’s member in India, Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), in partnership with other NGOs, is in the process of setting up a national hotline number for expanding the coverage of tele-counselling beyond its existing service delivery areas.

Safe Abortion and Contraceptive services: –

All members in the region have reported a decline in abortion services and contraceptive uptake due to lockdown, particularly for those who sought long term contraceptive methods and surgical abortion. It makes alternative and innovative ways of provision for these services even more critical. Members in Pakistan and Bangladesh have intensified outreach services through community health workers. They are actively engaging to identify the clients for abortion services and through mobile calls connecting the clients with trained service providers. The member in Nepal, Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN) has advocated successfully for the Ministry of Health (MoH), Nepal to provide guidelines that allow home-based medical abortion through an outreach model and through telemedicine.

Partnership and Networking

Members have been partnering with various UN agencies, NGOs and CSO platforms to advocate liaison for inclusion and provision of SRH services in their respective countries. The MA in Maldives, Society for Health Education (SHE) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Red Crescent and UNFPA for provisioning of door to door contraceptives and dignity kits in emergency shelters.  IPPF’s collaborative partner in Bhutan, RENEW, is providing 24/7 telephone counselling services and is facilitating GBV services through a Multi Sectoral Task Force (MSTF) represented by a Community Based Support System, National Commission for Women and Children and the Royal Bhutan Police in districts.

Upcoming priorities for the South Asia Region

As well as providing technical assistance and supporting members through designing alternate ways of operations, IPPF’s South Asia Regional office is continuing to monitor the latest trends with regard to COVID-19 in country and adjusting programmes accordingly.

Its primary focus is on designing and adopting innovative approaches such as digital health (telemedicine, mobile apps, information through SMS etc) for counselling, to deliver sexual health information and sexuality education and for follow-up; selfcare; providing counselling and selected SRH services outside the clinic setting.

We are also supporting country advocacy and initiatives to ensure essential SRHR services are part of the ongoing COVID-19 response and its aftermath response by national governments in the region.

In addition, we are reporting and generating evidence on COVID-19 impact on SRHR and we are using regular regional updates and media pages to ensure that the achievements of members are disseminated not only within the Federation but also to external partners and other stakeholders.

To find out more about specific initiatives in the IPPF South Asia Region, click on the links below for updates:

The COVID-19 Taskforce Microsite and slack channel have been invaluable to share news throughout the Federation. Please do continue to engage with each other and the Taskforce through them.

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

In solidarity, Nimisha Goswami,

COVID-19 Taskforce.

Posted in Abortion, Humanitarian, Innovation, Taskforce Updates

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