Due to fears of contracting COVID-19 in health centers
Women, girls mostly affected, says UNFPA Country Representative
Dr. Bannet Ndyanabangi, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) country representative to Liberia, has disclosed that the fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus in health centers is preventing women and girls from seeking services across Liberia.
Dr. Ndanabangi said as health systems across the globe including Liberia struggle to cope with the COVID-19 response, essential health-care services, including reproductive health services, have also been affected by the containment measures and movement restrictions.
He said the pandemic is making existing gender inequalities even worse; increases in gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse are being reported adding that anecdotal evidence from service data from one of the counties shows an increase in gender-based violence by 25% between April and May 2020.
Dr. Ndanabangi made the statement at this year’s celebration of World Population Day, held in Monrovia under the theme; “Safeguard the Health and Rights of Women and Girls During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” and “the official launch of State of World Population 2020.”
The event that was held by UNFPA in collaboration with the government of Liberia started with medical equipment, drugs and supplies, and infection prevention materials to strengthen the capacity of Liberia’s health system to respond effectively to COVID-19 and to deliver quality sexual and reproductive health services as well as dignity kits for women who are homebound or under quarantine.
Dr. Ndanabangi said health services data gathered by the Ministry of Health between March and May show 40% reduction in access to services including women seeking maternal health services.
“Liberia was on track to ensure adequate health care for pregnant women and their newborns as shown in the recently released Demographic and Health Survey of 2019, it showed that 80% of deliveries occurred in health facilities higher than the 56% of 2013 and deliveries by a skilled provider increased from 61 percent in 2013 to 84% 2019,” he said.
Accordiing to Dr. Ndanabangi, reproductive health supplies and services are critical and life-saving, yet supply chains are being disrupted, impacting the availability of contraceptives and other essential supplies including personal protective equipment.
“It is critical that women, men, and youth can safely access contraceptive methods of their choice and that lifesaving maternal medicines remain available to all women,” he said.
He promised UNFPA’s commitment to zero unmet need for contraception, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero gender-based violence and harmful practices by 2030 against women and girls – by 2030 the COVID19 will likely hamper which.
Dr. Ndanabangi said UNFPA is ensuring that women and girls, especially pregnant, delivering and lactating women, and those under quarantine, have timely access to safe, quality care.
Zeogar Wilson, Minister of Youth and Sports said every day, hundreds of thousands of girls are subjected to practices that harm them physically or psychologically or both, with the full knowledge and consent of their families, friends, and communities, adding that if these practices are not addressed, there is a potential for them to worsen over time.
Among the 19 harmful practices universally denounced as human rights violations, Min. Wilson named Female Genital Mutilation, child marriage, and sexual and gender-based violence that have remained stubbornly widespread.
Min Wilson said families may see Child Marriage as a way of securing the future of the girl by allowing the families of the husband to take full responsibility for the girl which he said is very wrong.
Francis F. Wreh, Director General of Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) said the world population day aims to increase people’s awareness of various population issues such as the importance of family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal, child health and human rights.
He said a recent UNFPA research highlighted that if the lockdown continues for six months and there is major disruption to health services, then, 47 million women in low and middle-income countries might not have access to modern contraceptives which will lead to 7 million unwanted pregnancies.
Williametta Saydee-Tarr Minister of Gender thanked UNFPA for their support to women empowerment but called on them to reach out to rural communities outside of Montserrado County to help women have access to safe delivery to help Liberia move forward.