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1.85 million abortions compromised due to restrictions imposed in response of COVID-19 outbreak: IDF study

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The study assesses near-term impact of COVID-19 on abortion access in India in first three months following commencement of lockdown

A recent study conducted by Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) revealed that access to around 1.85 million abortions was compromised due to the restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Abortion access for these 1.85 million women was compromised at all points of care, including public and private sector facilities and chemist outlets.

Vinoj Manning, CEO, Ipas Development Foundation said, “As COVID-19 turned into a pandemic, everyone’s complete attention and effort went to the containment of the virus, which quite naturally pushed a lot of health conditions and their management, including safe abortion, to the backseat. Majority of public health facilities and their staff are now focussed on COVID-19 treatments and closures of private health facilities have compromised the access to safe abortions, which is a time-sensitive procedure. The study was conducted to get a clearer picture of how COVID-19 restrictions have affected women seeking safe abortion services and what are the areas that will need focused efforts in the days to come.”

The study assesses the near-term impact of COVID-19 on abortion access in India in the first three months following the commencement of the lockdown (March 25, 2020 to June 24, 2020). The model of the study strives to quantify the reduced access to abortions across three different points of care –public health facilities, private health facilities, and chemist outlets.

Speaking on the methodology, Dr Sushanta Kumar Banerjee, CTO, Research & Evaluation, Ipas Development Foundation said, “We conducted telephonic surveys and consulted with several experts from FOGSI leadership and social marketing organisations like PSI India. After careful analysis of the data received from them, we have concluded that of the 3.9 million abortions that would have taken place in three months, access to around 1.85 million was compromised due to COVID-19 restrictions.”

The study estimates that access to abortion was highly compromised during lockdown one and two (March 25 – May 3, 2020) in which around 59 per cent of women seeking an abortion could not access the services. However, with the unlock phase or the recovery period as mentioned in the study starting on June 1, the situation is expected to improve – with 33 per cent abortions being compromised in 24 days.

A huge number of women could not access safe abortion services during the lockdown, therefore it is extremely important that the healthcare system, public and private, is prepared to meet the needs of these women. To facilitate the process Ipas Development Foundation has issued some initial recommendations which include: Rapid mapping of facilities for first and second trimester abortions, assessing facilities’ preparedness especially for second-trimester abortions, improving referral linkage and spread the word about the availability of the service, streamlining the supply chain for Medical Abortion drugs, and lastly including mechanisms to offset additional travel and out of pocket expenditures.

Ipas Development Foundation will be holding consultations with other partners and key stakeholders to facilitate meaningful collaborations to ensure access to safe abortions and ensure that no woman suffers long-term harm to her health due to lack of services.

Manning summed it up , “The most important take away of the study is not just the fact that 1.85 million women and girls who needed an abortion couldn’t get it in the last three months.  What is even more important is that this study highlights the need for a specially designed and integrated recovery plan for improving abortion services at facilities. Many of these 1.85 million women will be coming into public and private hospitals seeking second trimester abortions and we should not be turning them away a second time.” 

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