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Prioritize women and girls as we fight COVID-19 pandemic, Julitta Onabanjo

Like all countries across the globe, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and vulnerabilities within countries in the region, hitting women and young people the hardest.

At the regional level, UNFPA continues to focus on expanding the possibilities for women and young people to lead healthy sexual and reproductive lives, across all the 23 countries in the region, by 2030.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not changed these transformative aspirations. The pandemic has, however, set back years of progress and its short, medium and long-term impacts could mean a reversal of significant gains made to guarantee the basic rights for women, men and young people if adequate measures are not taken to secure their health and well-being.

Despite noteworthy efforts to ensure continuity of essential health - including sexual and reproductive health services - in East and Southern African countries, during the first and second waves of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, in comparison to 2019:

  • Outpatient attendance, including for adolescents, declined in most countries, by as much as 40 per cent in Eritrea and Kenya.

  • Use of injectable contraceptives was particularly affected during the first COVID-19 wave, with significant decline in Tanzania, South Africa and Lesotho.

  • HIV testing for pregnant women declined in many countries including in Botswana, Comoros and Eritrea; whilst home-based deliveries increased, which in turn increased the risk of maternal morbidity and mortality.

  • The number of GBV cases at health facilities increased significantly in nearly all these countries.

While the pandemic has slowed down progress towards the SDGs, it also makes their achievement ever more urgent and necessary. As the crisis continues to evolve, rights-based humanitarian response and emergency plans, as well as enhanced coordination among partners, are key to identifying areas of greatest need and potential intervention.

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