Written by Ijeoma UKAZU

COVID-19: Access to family planning services, information crucial - Amin-Bello







The continuous use of contraception amid the COVID-19 pandemic, total lockdown of social and business activities is crucial.

Dr. Sakina Amin-Bello, Senior Programme Advisor, Reproductive Health, Pathfinder International, in this interview with The Abuja Inquirer's Lagos State Correspondent, IJEOMA UKAZU, x-rays the importance of contraception in averting unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and negative health consequences that may arise.



Why is information on provision of contraception and family planning services important during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Contraception and family planning information and services are always life-saving and important. Sexual activity does not cease with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is therefore crucial to ensure that people are able to access rights-based services and information to initiate and continue use of contraception.

By preventing unintended pregnancies, contraception helps to protect girls and women from the negative health consequences of unintended pregnancies, which can save their lives. Contraception reduces the need for abortion, meaning that women and girls are less at risk of unsafe abortion, which again can be lifesaving. Condoms, when used consistently and correctly, help to prevent both unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (including HIV). 

In addition, by preventing the negative health consequences associated with unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections, contraception can help alleviate additional pressure on already-stretched health systems which are working hard to address COVID-19.


Which contraception is safe and best to use during the COVID-19 pandemic?

All modern methods of contraception are safe to use, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, now that we are on lock-down working from home and always together with our spouses and partners, contraception becomes even more important if a woman or a couple are not ready to conceive.

If you have had a baby in the last six months or have a health condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or breast cancer - or if you smoke - seek advice from a health care professional to ensure you are using a method of contraception which is suitable and safe for you.

The best method of contraception is the one that works well for you.

Condoms, when they are used consistently and correctly, are the only method of contraception that helps to prevent unintended pregnancy and protect against sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.  They can be used together with other methods of contraception to protect against both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Emergency contraceptive pills can prevent up to 95 percent of pregnancies when taken within five days after intercourse, and they can be taken by anyone with or without a health condition. 


What is your advice for couples who want to avoid getting pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you do not want to become pregnant, you should start or continue to use your contraceptive method of choice. You may be able to access information and contraceptive services from a healthcare provider by phone or online. If you cannot access these services you may opt for a back-up method that is available without a prescription (such as condoms, spermicides, pills, or emergency contraceptive pills) from a nearby pharmacy or drug shop.


What do you recommend for a client who wishes to change a contraceptive method? Is this possible?

Yes. It may be difficult however, to access all the methods of contraception that are normally available in your nearest health facility due to restrictions on movement, lack of supply, as well as increased demands on health providers and services. 

If you have a pre-existing health condition, consult a provider to find out what options suit you best, and which are available and feasible. Seek advice and information from your health provider and consider using methods that do not have medical restrictions like mini pills, condoms, fertility awareness-based methods, diaphragm, spermicides or lactational amenorrhea if you are exclusively breastfeeding.


Can a family plan user remove or replace an implant or IUD during COVID-19 pandemic?

Family Planning is one of the services grouped under essential health services in Nigeria within the COVID response. Removal of long acting methods such as implants or IUDs, after the recommended period of use or if you are experiencing side-effects, can be carried out in a health facility by trained providers.

If, due to restrictions on movement in your area following the COVID-19 pandemic or safety guidelines to stay protected you cannot have your long acting method removed straight away after its recommended period of use, it is important to use another method of contraception to avoid pregnancy at this time.   There are no medical problems caused by delaying removal of long acting methods such as implants or IUDs. Do not try to remove the contraception method yourself; wait until you are able to access health care from trained providers.


Describe the role a policymaker can play to make sure people can access contraception and family planning information and services?

A policy maker should plan and develop innovative strategies to ensure as many eligible people as possible can access information and contraception during this period.

There should be increased use of mobile phones and digital technologies to help people make decisions about which contraceptive methods to use, and how they can be accessed. 

Policy makers should enable healthcare workers to provide contraceptive information and services as per national guidelines to the full extent possible. This is particularly important where pregnancy poses a high risk to health.  

They should also expand availability of contraceptive services (including both information and methods) through places other than healthcare facilities, such as pharmacies, drug shops, online platforms and other outlets.  This can be with or without prescription depending on national guidelines and contraceptive methods.  

Further, they should ensure access to emergency post-coital contraception, including consideration of over the counter provision. Enable access to contraception for women and girls in the immediate post-partum and post abortion periods when they may access health services. 


What can a programme manager do to help people access contraception and family planning information and services?

For programme managers, their tasks include, increasing use of telehealth for counselling and sharing of messages related to safe and effective use of contraception and for selection and initiation of contraceptives.

They should ensure adequate inventory to avoid potential stock outs at all levels of the health system. Also, programme managers should prepare advisories for users on how they can access contraceptive information, services and supplies; monitor contraceptive consumption in your area .









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