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Grave concern clouds our celebrations this World Contraception Day

Sara Stratton (Co-Chair - Advocacy and Accountability Working Group/RHSC), Nene Fofana-Cissé (Chair - SECONAF/RHSC), Charlotte Soulary (Advocacy & European Network Officer/RHSC), Nora Quesada (Chair - ForoLAC/RHSC)

Tomorrow is World Contraception Day, a day on which our community has habitually celebrated progress, highlighted ongoing needs, and reminded world leaders of their commitments to achieve zero unmet need for family planning by 2030.

Indeed, in recent years there have been improvements in technology and in access, in supply chain visibility, and in the accountability and commitment of governments to universal access to reproductive health (RH) products.

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But today, we share with you our grave concern. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit contraceptive access hard. Worldwide, millions of women have lost access to contraceptives and RH services because of months-long lockdown measures, supply chain disruptions and shift of resources to COVID-19.

Across 37 countries, nearly two million fewer women received services between January and June than in the same period last year, according to a Marie Stopes International report. Two-thirds of the 103 countries surveyed between mid-May and early July by the World Health Organization reported disruptions to RH care and contraceptives access. In parts of West Africa, the provision of some contraceptives fell by nearly 50% compared to the same period last year, according to International Planned Parenthood Federation. . In Cote d’Ivoire for example, COVID19 has precipitated a 50% decline in attendance at healthcare outlets, including contraceptive service providers. In Latin America, UNFPA forecasted a decline of between 900,000 and 2.6 million Couple Years of Protection between 2019 and 2020, with nearly 75% of the drop concentrated in Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.

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They will amount to hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of additional unintended pregnancies, and thousands of maternal deaths worldwide. In Kenya alone, four million adolescent pregnancies are projected between February and June 2021 as a result of school closures and reduced access to contraceptives.

The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of global and national supply chains and areas for improvement, in telemedicine for example. It has also showed the power of collaboration, as mechanisms such as the Global Family Planning Visibility and Analytics Network (GFPVAN) have been able to bring RH stakeholders to make data along the supply chain visible as it changes due to the pandemic.

Looking ahead to the coming months with the continued presence of this pandemic, we need to pour our collective resources into what works and continue to fix what doesn’t: we have to collectively adapt to our current context and ensure we do everything in our power to guarantee access to contraceptives to women and girls who need them.

As world resources are channeled into resolving the COVID crisis, it is easy to forget commitments to RH supplies. Governments, donors, the private sector, civil society, and other stakeholders: we all have responsibilities to ensure that women and girls have ongoing access to the life-saving RH supplies they need throughout — and after — the COVID-19 crisis. RH supplies and services must be prioritized through supportive policies, well-functioning supply chains, and adequate financing. Only this will ensure that next year, we will again be able to celebrate progress and not lament crippling setbacks towards reaching zero unmet need for family planning.

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