The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great disruptions in health systems and services. This has affected people’s access to basic services, including those around sexual and reproductive health (SRH). The most affected are those who already experience marked health inequities under normal circumstances such as women, girls, young people and other vulnerable populations.
IPPF Africa Region (IPPFAR) and its network of Member Associations (MAs), like the rest of the world, have been forced to develop and implement new approaches and innovations in service delivery and advocacy, with the aim of contributing to SDG target 3.7, AU Agenda 2063 and the IPPF Strategic Framework 2016-2022.
It is with this regard that advocacy teams at both the IPPFAR and MAs held a webinar on Friday 14 August to deepen their understanding of the challenges and opportunities that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, discuss innovations, share advocacy lessons learned and best practices.
Participants talked about how, with restrictions on movement and public gatherings, digital platforms such as Zoom, Facebook, Twitter and You Tube have been used to convey SRHR messages, undertake trainings and call for action.
In different statutory meetings at the AU and UN levels, civil society organisations (CSOs) have raised key SRHR concerns and argued for the inclusion of SRH services as part of the list of essential services.
From the experience of Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU), these meetings are an alternative cost-effective means of conducting advocacy initiatives with good results. Owing to restrictions on international and local travels, RHU has noted that there is now increased access to Policy makers and other influential figures. The MA is also a member of the government’s national task force for the COVID-19 response. RHU’s membership in this committee provided an advocacy opportunity for the inclusion of SRHR in COVID-19 response interventions, including more attention to the rising cases of violence against women and children, as well as early child marriage. In addition, RHU has built new networks owing to its involvement in task forces at national and district levels. RHU has also participated in interviews with mainstream media outlets for wider reach of its messages.
Similarly in Mozambique, the MA, Associação Moçambicana para Desenvolvimento da Família (AMODEFA) has successfully used media campaigns for advocacy messaging. AMODEFA continues to work closely with the Ministry of Health to disseminate SRHR information virtually. A toll-free line to report cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) has also been secured to aid with the rising number of SGBV cases. The MA continues to build partnerships with parliamentarians and influential decision-makers.
In Mauritius, SRHR issues appear to have been sidelined in the wake of the pandemic. For example, the long-awaited Children’s bill that had been presented in the National Assembly for endorsement was put on hold. SGBV cases have also been reported to be rising. The MA, Mauritius Family Planning and Welfare Association (MFPWA) has been lobbying for the amendment of the current Violence Act, efforts that have contributed to the Ministry of Gender issuing a statement regarding a review of the Act. Maintaining visibility and building partnerships with relevant stakeholders and gradual move to digitalisation of services are some of the new approaches MFPWA is using to address the challenges brought about by COVID-19.
In Madagascar, Fianakaviana Sambatra (FISA) has been supporting the Ministry of Health in the development of a national plan to address SRHR in the context of COVID-19. Virtual meetings continue to be organised, with messages being developed and disseminated via several media outlets and SRHR networks. Budget revisions are also being done to prepare for the post covid-19 period.
Similarly, online platforms are becoming the new normal in South Africa. The SRHR coalition, which includes Partners in Sexual Health (PSH) in the country is pushing for more attention and resources for gender-based violence and rights of women and children issues amidst the pandemic. An emergency response plan for the same is being drafted as well. In addition, youth parliamentarians are being engaged via webinars to discuss SRHR issues and strengthen the policy frameworks.
In Cote d’Ivoire, The Association Ivoirienne pour le Bien-Etre Familial (AIBEF) has created stronger partnerships with the government and has been giving psychological and nutritional support to vulnerable groups in the country during the pandemic. AIBEF has also extensively used technology to disseminate SRHR information.
While acknowledging the difficult circumstances that MAs are operating in as a result of COVID-19, participants stressed on the need to realign COVID 19 responses to the ideals of the IPPF Strategic Framework, the Universal Health Coverage, the SDG goals and the African Union Agenda 2063. This will ensure that women, girls, men and vulnerable populations have equal access to the necessary opportunities to achieve their full health potential and health equity. Despite COVID-19, organizations and governments must not relent in the achievement of their SRHR commitments.