Covid-19: Focus on reproductive health
It is now a well-known fact that the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic has a different effect on women. Some states in India have done well in managing the problems of women, especially the elderly, such as Kerala. It has arranged for nutritious food packages to be delivered at home. My mother, who is 81-years-old, has been receiving such packages consisting of provisions which have been carefully-thought-out.
The main concern now should be health care workers who are undertaking this exercise. They are also the mainline workers in hospitals. Seventy per cent of the world’s health care workers and social workers are women.
They are the ones who stay back in hospitals and conduct surveys in remote areas where they work as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and midwives during emergencies. In these times, women have become caregivers at home for the ill or the elderly.
In India, far more women are working in the field of childcare, in schools at the nursery level, and as health care providers in homes than men. In fact, with schools closing, their burden at home increases hugely.
The fact that women health workers are being asked to travel to homes in their areas to check on symptoms for Covid-19 makes them all the more vulnerable. In many areas, they have no protective clothing or equipment to guard them against the virus.
Women’s health, thus, becomes a vital issue. In this, reproductive health has to take precedence. There have been several reports of women going into labour and giving birth on trains. Health services are not reaching them in time in many urban and rural areas. At a time when basic health services are stretched, it is quite likely that women’s health needs, both in the public system and at home, are not a priority.
Despite the outreach of ASHA in many parts, the effect of such deadly ailments as Covid-19 on pregnant women could be fatal. The government’s advisory on asking them to stay home is important, but not sufficient.
In addition, there is information asymmetry, Women due to illiteracy or lack of connectivity have little access to information. The Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone showed how much women were affected due to the lack of information about how to protect themselves against the virus. This is a reminder that women in India across the spectrum have to receive much more care then they do at the moment.
As of now only 36.4% of mothers get assistance under the Janani Suraksha Yojana, which gives financial assistance for women who give birth in a public hospital. This leaves out a sizeable chunk of women who need reproductive health services. As a result of supply chains shutting down, the access to medicines for the population in general and women in particular have decreased.
In order to access reproductive health systems such as contraception, it is often necessary for women to be able to get to a public health centre. In addition, the costs of both reaching such centres and contraceptives has gone up.
Within communities, women are the most marginalised and it is necessary to hear their voices in the fight against Covid-19. The government’s commendable ASHA scheme should be an entry point into understanding how the virus is affecting people in different areas. These are statistics which must be included in the fight against Covid-19 with reference to protecting women.
The views expressed are personal