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COVID-19 Cuts Access to Sexual Reproductive Health Services for Rural Women

Failure to access sexual reproductive health services during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic led to many unwanted pregnancies. Image by NAWEC

BY LETHOKUHLE NKOMO | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | OCT 5, 2022

COVID-19 surfaced as a coterie of challenges for women residing in rural areas. Access to sexual reproductive health services is one of the many challenges they had to deal with in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HWANGE (The Citizen Bulletin) — “It was during the peak of the COVID -19 pandemic when hospitals were becoming a no go area. I really wanted to get a contraceptive jab but failed. I was unable to walk for 17 kilometres to the next hospital which is Lukhosi, public transport was scarce during that time,” narrates Shantani Dube from Chilanga village.

COVID-19 affected people differently. It left a trail of structural inequalities and worsened gender inequality.

For women like Dube, the effects linger.

“My failure to have Jadelle as a form of contraceptive resulted in me having this baby. Well, I regret it but there is nothing I can do now. I stay in Chilanga, and we only get our health services at Lukhosi hospital which was not accessible during COVID-19-induced lockdowns.”
Shantani Dube, a villager

While COVID-19 has a severe, and in some cases, devastating impact on health systems, in Zimbabwe, studies show that during the peak of COVID-19  there are people whose human rights are least protected. Vulnerable group of people such as women are likely to experience unique difficulties in accessing quality sexual and reproductive healthcare.

Access to Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Services (SRHR) at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for most rural women in Hwange district. Additionally, most rural women were misinformed about COVID-19 thereby limiting their ability to take care of their bodies and protect themselves from COVID-19 and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“I spent most of the time indoors and failed to access contraceptives, and for me to deny my husband’s his conjugal rights would probably lead to the end of my marriage,” says Redi Phiri another villager from Chilanga.

Women say they could not deny their husbands conjugal rights resulting in unwanted pregnancies.

In 2021, Zimbabwe continued to face multiple hazards dominated by two waves of the COVID-19 outbreak containment measures introduced in 2021, which included lockdowns, school shutdowns, and curfews severely affected business operations and had deleterious impacts on industry, and the informal sector and eroded the fragile livelihoods of vulnerable populations such as women.

Ruth Bikwa the Director of Hopeville Zimbabwe, another organisation which works with vulnerable groups which include women and children, indicated that COVID -19 had left a trail of disaster in the lives of rural women and their children.

“Due to inaccessibility of reproductive services, some rural women had a number of unwanted pregnancies.  As a result these children are going to suffer the consequence,” says Bikwa.

ALSO READ: Vulnerable Children Hardhit by COVID-19

A recent research on Maternal, Sexual and Reproductive Health conducted by the Ministry of Health and Child Care shows that the COVID-19 outbreak affected women and young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, including access to family planning.

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