As the novel coronavirus began its global spread, Ipas and partners in Africa, Asia and the Americas began calling on governments and health systems to designate abortion care as an essential health service. We also began rolling out new strategies, such as expanding telemedicine services that include abortion with pills, and stepped up efforts to support health systems and abortion providers with the information, training and supplies needed to safely offer abortion and contraceptive services. The snapshots below reflect some of Ipas’s early responses to the COVID-19 crisis.
Along with other members of the Pakistan Alliance for Postabortion Care, a national alliance of more than 40 organizations, Ipas Pakistan has called for federal, provincial and private facilities providing sexual and reproductive health care to remain open and continue providing outpatient services and counseling during the pandemic.
Ipas Pakistan also has issued guidance to help country health systems during this escalation of the viral pandemic. Designed to minimize COVID-19 exposure to women and health staff, the guidance recommends offering women the option of abortion with pills, to lessen the need for going to a health facility. It also recommends maximizing the use of telephone or video links through online platforms such as WhatsApp to provide pre- and postabortion care and assessment.
In partnership with government health officials, Ipas Pakistan has developed messages about postabortion care and contraception during COVID-19 that are being disseminated via WhatsApp to more than 1,600 Lady Health Workers throughout the country. Lady Health Workers are community-based and play a crucial role in connecting women to the public health facilities, particularly in Pakistan’s rural areas.
April 29, 2020
MONICA OGUTTU, founder and executive director of the Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET), which works to promote maternal, child and family health in Kenya and East and Central Africa
I’m concerned right now that sexual and reproductive health services are being neglected—including the supply of family planning commodities, which will result in unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortion. We are exploring ways to reach the most women to offer support and correct reproductive health information through our toll-free line and we’re working to offer services remotely, including comprehensive abortion care, through a network of pharmacists linked with referral sites. The COVID -19 pandemic is challenging in many ways, but I think it has presented us with an an opportunity to start thinking of new and different ways of expanding access to abortion care.”
April 24, 2020
NELLY MUNYASIA, Executive Director, Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK)
Through our network of 587 health providers across Kenya, RHNK is committed to ensuring safe abortion is an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Together with Ipas Africa Alliance and other partners under the She Makes Her Safe Choice programme in Kenya, we are standing up for quality safe abortion information, supplies and services during this public health emergency. We trust in women and youths, and we are doubling our efforts to ensure they have the needed information to make their choice.
Women and girls may be afraid to go to health facilities for fear of the virus, in addition to the fear being of stigmatized for seeking an abortion. Therefore, we are encouraging our providers deliver medical abortion pills directly to the homes of those in need, whenever possible. We also encourage pharmacists to provide abortion pills, along with correct information about their use, to those in need—especially young people who are fearful of going to health clinics at this time. The pharmacists are linked to our network providers in the event referrals are needed for treatment of complications.”
April 24, 2020
Well before the coronavirus crisis hit Kenya, the Ipas Africa Alliance was using the online platform WhatsApp to stay in touch with health professionals who are trained to provide abortion care throughout the country. Now, that communication is more valuable than ever.
As part of its work to ensure that women and girls can still access abortion services during the crisis, Ipas is using WhatsApp to offer abortion providers technical, professional and emotional support. “Providers are worried, they are anxious. The health system simply will not be able to cope if there is an explosion of COVID-19 cases,” says Dr. Ernest Nyamato, director of the alliance.
In addition to sharing information such as COVID-19 guidelines from WHO and the Ministry of Health, Ipas is also helping providers with one of their key requests: more personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer. “So far, we have been able fulfill some of these requests and are fast-tracking procurement. But this is going to be challenging, because of price-gouging and escalating prices,” says Nyamato.
In the meantime, Ipas is also tracking reports of an increase in unsafe abortion resulting from women and girls being denied safe abortion care at some facilities. At least five health facilities have now been designated as “COVID-only” facilities, Nyamato says. Ipas is encouraging youth champions of sexual and reproductive health and rights to use social media to alert young people to locations of facilities where abortion and contraceptive care remain available.
May 5, 2020
In Kenya, where there are hundreds of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the government has imposed a nighttime curfew and other strict measures, many people are afraid to go to health facilities for fear of being quarantined.
To keep safe abortion care available, the Ipas Africa Alliance is working with partners such as Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK). One way they are tackling this issue is to make sure abortion pills are in stock and available at pharmacies. “We want to bring abortion care to women, rather than having them venture out in ways that may be unsafe because of the virus,” says Dr. Ernest Nyamato, director of Ipas Africa Alliance.
“Many young women, in particular, are now going to pharmacists as their first point of contact for abortion care,” he says, “so we are sending supplies of pills and other abortion-related commodities to pharmacists. We’re trying to help them increase their stock, but it will be difficult, because India is the main source of these pills and there is a transportation lockdown there.”
May 6, 2020
VINOJ MANNING, Ipas Development Foundation Chief Executive Officer
These are unprecedented times. We should not hesitate to forge new partnerships with governments, health systems, community-based organizations and others to create new learning and support systems. We need to work together—not only to mitigate the immediate impact of COVID-19 on women, communities and health systems—but also to reinvent ourselves in order to best meet our commitments. For the Ipas Development Foundation, that means working to ensure that, even in the midst of this pandemic, all women have access to contraception and safe, legal abortion.
April 2, 2020
MALENA MORALES, Ipas Bolivia director
In Bolivia, the Ministry of Health is working to ensure that women can access gynecology and obstetrics services and that pregnant women with COVID-19 can get the care they need. Ipas Bolivia is strengthening the work of community agents who support women with reproductive health guidance and linking women to doctors when necessary. We are also exploring the possibility of using a telemedicine platform to connect women with the reproductive health information they need.
April 2, 2020
DR. POPULAR GENTLE, Ipas Nepal director
In Nepal, the government has declared a nationwide lockdown. Health facilities are open, but they are shifting focus to address COVID-19 and the possibility of disruption of contraception and safe abortion services due to the travel restriction and medicine shortages, especially in the remote areas. Contraception and safe abortion are not considered priority services in the current context and accessing contraception and safe abortion may not be a priority for most families, since men generally make decisions about travel and the utilization of contraception and safe abortion services. As contraceptives and safe abortion services are likely to become increasingly difficult to access in this context, unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions are likely to increase significantly.
Ipas Nepal is exploring ways to keep in close contact with health providers, government officials and NGO partners to emphasize the importance of continuing to provide safe abortion services for women and girls.
April 2, 2020
GRACE TAMBATAMBA-CHIYABA, Ipas Zambia director
As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise in Zambia, visits to health facilities are being discouraged. This may lead to health providers not prioritizing sexual and reproductive health care, because of the perception that those services are not urgent or important.
Ipas Zambia is committed to ensuring that women and girls have access to sexual and reproductive health services and that provision of those services remains an important focus of the Ministry of Health agenda. We will be working as well to ensure that health workers—who are on the frontlines of the pandemic—receive all the support they need to provide these services.
April 2, 2020
Ipas President and CEO Anu Kumar says President Trump’s plan to halt U.S. funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) is a dangerous move that will hinder efforts to coordinate the global public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic—and the efforts to strengthen health systems and promote all people’s health, as we collectively build back after this crisis.