What has been the focus of your concern for the health of women and girls in this pandemic?
Women and girls, particularly pregnant and lactating women, can face higher health risks than other people due to infectious disease. So we have been building an understanding of how COVID-19 affects women and girls, so that we can respond to their particular needs.
At the same time, a new virus or disease does not change the fact that sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls are essential and sometimes lifesaving. This includes obstetric and newborn care, antenatal care, postnatal care, safe abortion care, contraception and sexual violence care.
Many women and girls in low resource and fragile settings face obstacles in seeking healthcare already. Yet this year, we have seen how health systems can be overwhelmed by the pressure of a massive outbreak, further reducing access and options for routine care. On top of this, people are being asked to stay at home, and may be fearful to go out to places where they believe they might become infected. Locked at home, women and girls may experience more instances of sexual or domestic violence, affecting their physical and mental health.
We’ve seen the impacts of these barriers before, during the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone: where more women died from complications during pregnancy and childbirth than from Ebola itself. Now modelling published by the Lancet in mid-May has projected devastatingly higher maternal, and child, mortality as an impact of the pandemic, resulting from reduced access to healthcare.
So our greatest concern has been to maintain the continuity of essential services in a way that is adapted to the times, in hospitals and the community, making sure our staff are working in a safe environment and that patients are protected as well through safe, quality care.