This section collates recent developments impacting the health sector in India.
Research by the Joint Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls when the access to sexual and reproductive health rights and gender-based violence services was profoundly affected for the women and girls of the marginalized section in the countries in Asia-Pacific region.
The research conducted from 2020 to 2021 showed that due to the policy failure of classifying appropriate sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) and gender-based violence (GBV) services as essential, affected the availability of these services during the pandemic.
Reduced access to reproductive health care services during the pandemic led to increased maternal mortality rates. Women were not able to access ante and postnatal care and safe delivery health services as the entire focus of governments and authorities were to ensure the availability of COVID-19 related healthcare services.
An increase in the practice of unsafe and unskilled child delivery was adopted which could lead to maternal and infant deaths, this posed a huge risk for women and girls in disadvantaged and hard-to-reach areas.
Lack of resources for providing SRH as human resources were diverted to manage the COVID-19 outbreak which made the supply side of the services inadequately equipped to respond.
Shortage of family planning and contraception facilities led to a shortage of family planning and contraception commodities which resulted in the closure of production sites and disruption of global supply chains of modern contraceptives and other vital supplies of sexual and reproductive health e.g., testing and prevention supplies for STIs.
Survivors of gender-based violence were confined with their abusers. Women were locked down with their abusers while support services and responders struggled to reach out to them and thus it shifted the priorities of the responders.
These setbacks led the governments to come up with several promising practices in response.
Adoption of digital tools for providing training to healthcare professionals and monitoring safe maternity services. Govt. of Bangladesh ensured the availability of essential maternal health services by developing guidelines and implementing training and mentoring services for healthcare professionals and midwives.
Governments acknowledged antenatal care, skilled birth attendance, and postnatal care as essential services. Guidelines for the availability of contraceptives and family planning services during the pandemic were developed.
Adoption of digital tools and community-based models for last-mile delivery of these services.
It was noted that the unavailability of information and access to SRH and GBV services that are required for responding to gender-based violence increases the vulnerability among already discriminated groups.
It is important for governments and authorities to bring these services under the umbrella of essential life-saving services in order to ensure that no one is left behind.