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.
During COVID-19 crisis, lift barriers to reproductive health care — including abortion
As this pandemic continues to take the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world, the health and well-being of everyone is at stake. Governments and health systems need to look out for everyone — including the people who need an abortion. Ipas President and CEO Anu Kumar recommends some actions, including loosening restrictions on abortion self-care, and lifting regulations on abortion with pills and integrating into telemedicine services.
Partnering with Bolivia’s police to protect reproductive rights
Bolivia has been under a strict nationwide lockdown, creating challenges for women who need to access contraception or abortion services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One problem has been with the contraceptive supply chain: Workers who usually transport contraceptive supplies have been unable to do so due to stay-at-home orders. Fortunately, Ipas has a longstanding partnership with Bolivia’s national police—having provided them training on sexual and reproductive rights—and police are still permitted to move about during the lockdown, unlike most citizens. Some police units are now helping Ipas Bolivia ensure delivery of contraceptive supplies to health facilities it supports.
Ipas’s work with police before the pandemic included training them on how to handle sexual violence cases, which is valuable now as police work to help women dealing with violence during the lockdown. Police have been worried about contracting COVID-19 when they respond to emergency calls for intrafamily and sexual violence, so Ipas Bolivia is providing them with gloves and masks to make it easier for them to respond to these emergencies and uphold women’s rights during the crisis.
We’re proud of our longstanding partnership with Bolivia’s police force and our ability to work together during the pandemic to protect women’s rights and their access needed care,” says Malena Morales, director of Ipas Bolivia.
May 19, 2020
India says abortion is essential during COVID-19; telemedicine can make it accessible
By recognizing that women’s need for abortion is essential and urgent, the Government of India is showing that it cares about its people, says Anisha Aggarwal of the Ipas Development Foundation. But, she notes, in a time when “in-person client-doctor meeting is both risky and difficult, and denial or delay of services can have adverse outcomes, I strongly believe that it is time to harness the potential of telemedicine for abortions.”
‘Mobilizing with one voice’ in Pakistan
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.
We are mobilizing with one voice to make sure there is continuity of safe abortion, postabortion and contraceptive services during this challenging situation,” says Dr. Ghulam Shabbir Awan, director of Ipas Pakistan.
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
Protecting abortion access in Kenya
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.”
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
APRIL 24, 2020
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.”
NELLY MUNYASIA, Executive Director, Reproductive Health Network Kenya (RHNK)
APRIL 24, 2020
Helping providers cope with the devastating impact of COVID-19
Photo by Dennis Sigwe / SOPA Images/SIPA USA
A woman walks past graffiti by Anthony Kihoro in Kayole sensitizing people about coronavirus. President Uhuru Kenyatta imposed a dusk-to-dawn 21-day curfew that took effect on Friday, March 26, 2020 in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
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
‘We want to bring abortion care to women, rather than having them venture out’
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
How the pandemic is impacting abortion care
Two police officers stop a car near a checkpoint during coronavirus lockdown.
In Burdwan Town, Purba Bardhaman, West Bengal, India, the newly constructed Department of Agriculture office is now an emergency coronavirus quarantine center.
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.
VINOJ MANNING, Ipas Development Foundation Chief Executive Officer
APRIL 2, 2020
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.”
MALENA MORALES, Ipas Bolivia director
April 2, 2020
Prabin Ranabhat / SOPA Images
Police officers patrol the street during the coronavirus crisis in Kathmandu, Nepal. The government imposed a nationwide lockdown amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
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.
DR. POPULAR GENTLE, Ipas Nepal director
APRIL 2, 2020
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.
GRACE TAMBATAMBA-CHIYABA, Ipas Zambia director
April 2, 2020
Ipas statement on Trump Administration halt of funding to WHO
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.