A family planning board is predicting an uptick in unintended pregnancies in Indonesia as condoms and other forms of birth control are becoming less available amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Population and Family Planning Board (BKKBN) runs family planning programs in Indonesia and serves 28 million people, according to the Strait Times. The board found that about 10% of its beneficiaries in 34 provinces had difficulty accessing birth control in March alone.
Strained health systems worldwide are pivoting resources to treat COVID-19 patients, and women are finding it more difficult to receive the family planning information and services they need.
BKKBN estimates a one-month decline in contraceptive use in Indonesia could increase pregnancies by 15%, resulting in around 420,00 pregnancies, within one to three months. If people continue to lack access to contraception, pregnancies could increase by as much as 30%, resulting in more than 800,000 pregnancies, within another few months.
The board has seen a decrease in contraceptive use in multiple forms, including implants, injections, and vasectomies. Many health centers have shut down and the open ones are limiting the number of patients they can treat, according to the board’s chief Hasto Wardoyo.
Low-income families are especially at risk since they rely on BKKBN health centers and midwives to access free contraceptives, Wardoyo told the Strait Times. Young women living in cities who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 are particularly vulnerable if they went back home to their families where they were forced into marriage, according to Dr. Augustina Situmorang from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.
Lack of access to family planning has a direct impact on a woman’s well-being throughout her life. Unintended pregnancies put mothers and children at risk of malnutrition, illness, abuse, neglect, and in some cases, death. Mothers who have unintended pregnancies tend to give birth when they’re younger, not finish their education, and earn less later in life. While children whose births were unintended are also more likely to be born into poverty and struggle to receive the opportunities necessary to get out.
From New Zealand to India, the COVID-19 pandemic is putting millions of women at risk of not being able to plan for their families, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). At least 47 million women and girls in low and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives amid the pandemic. Many women are also not attending important medical appointments because they fear they might catch the virus.
If stay-at-home orders continue for six months to stop the spread of COVID-19, UNFPA estimates 7 million unintended pregnancies could occur. The most vulnerable and marginalized communities are more at risk when there are contraception shortages and there could be an increase in unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV, the organization said in a statement released to Global Citizen.
The global organization Family Planning 2020 is working to provide resources for policymakers and advocates to address family planning challenges brought on by the pandemic.
The #COVID19 pandemic is causing global supply chain disruptions but women still need access to quality #familyplanning products.— Family Planning 2020 (@FP2020Global) May 12, 2020
▶️ Read more from our Joint Statement on the Importance of Continued Family Planning Data Sharing and Collaboration: https://t.co/7RHcGOWjIEpic.twitter.com/xn9uwC7S0e
"Family planning is essential health care," Family Planning 2020 Director Beth Schlachter told Global Citizen. "But around the world, we are seeing women’s access to family planning being cut off, whether from lockdown orders, the close of health clinics, or the disruption in the global contraceptive supply chain."
"In light of the very real challenges, we also have opportunities to be hopeful," she added.
Kenya’s Ministry of Health declared that COVID-19 response efforts must consider family planning as an essential health service, Schlachter said. Zambia is also working to ensure people in rural areas receive family planning.
BKKBN is developing strategies to help people continue to have access to contraceptives in Indonesia. The board is having field officers distribute condoms and contraceptive pills to low-income families, and launching a campaign in June to provide access to family planning to 1 million new people.