About 19% of the total world population reside in the Asia Pacific Region, among which 60% account for the world’s youth population, aged 15-24 years. The youths include a diverse representation of adolescent girls and young women, young migrants, and refugees, youth living in rural areas, young persons with disabilities, young people of different sexual orientations. Since the COVID-19 Pandemic has spread all over the world, these targeted populations have accelerated the risks and vulnerabilities of being left behind in terms of their access to education, employment, and healthcare.
Even before the pandemic, the Asia Pacific Region had been facing many obstacles in tackling the issues of Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights, and the COVID-19 has just exacerbated the problems even more. The various challenges related with the Sexual and Reproductive Health, including the safe abortion practices show up in a spectrum of different factors such as legal barriers requiring parental consent for teenagers, socio-cultural barriers for unmarried sexually active young people, as well as financial and other access barriers. The lock-downs worldwide have been just one more challenge to create an obstacle to these existing problems.
“One of the biggest issues to tackle is unplanned and unintended pregnancies, especially in young people. This has resulted in what we call baby dumping in countries like Malaysia and Japan where unwanted infants are born to adolescent school-going girls and then thrown away.” shares Tomoko Fukuda, Regional Director of the International Planned Parenthood Federation for East & South-East Asia and Oceania Region.
While we praise Sri Lanka for its strong network of the healthcare system and government clinics providing free reproductive health services, it has also not been able to maintain this standard due to the lockdown restrictions imposed in the country.
“The youths are unable to access these services unless they have a very vital reason. It is because the young people who are confined at their homes, in need of pregnancy kits, she has to, by default, go through her parents, which in the present situation is often unable to do so,” says Shelani Palihawadana, Project Coordinator at Youth Advocacy Network, Sri Lanka.
Several problems are looming due to the pandemic and access to safe abortion lies in one of them. While people are not being able to handle the rising problem of unintended pregnancies, the problems of accessing safe abortion practices are also lurking in the nooks and corners of every country, especially for the youths. Any delay in abortion service can force the women over gestational thresholds, adding up further strains on the patient and exposes healthcare workers to additional risks. Thus, the provision of safe abortion is a very crucial, time-sensitive, and essential health service where mishandling cannot be entertained.
As COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the increasing troubles in medical services and health systems are stretched, in some places, almost to breaking point. This has created a panic and concern among the health system regarding the provision and access to safe abortion. Telemedicine, however, is a safe and private way to have an abortion in early pregnancy without having to visit a clinic, vital for those who are youths, self-isolating, as much as for women living in remote communities, or whose childcare responsibilities mean they cannot leave the house. Evidence from Australia and the UK, who are currently in the practice of this way to provide abortion care has proven effective to handle the cases of abortion safely.
With the World Health Organization recommending that women can safely self-manage the medical abortion in circumstances where they have access to appropriate information and health services should they need or want them at any stage of the process, the in-person meeting is not required for the provision of safe and effective abortion services.
In this situation of the rising pandemic, it is vital for countries like Nepal to also accelerate the health services such as telemedicine to manage the crisis of safe abortion services. To reduce the problems of accessibility to safe abortion services, telemedicine should be promoted, and changes need to be implemented accordingly to save lives and prevent further strain on medical services. This may also be a means that can safeguard the women in the long run from seeking to choose unsafe methods.
Ms. Lirisha Tuladhar is our Youth Champion. Ms. Tuladhar is a passionate activist who works in women’s right to safe and legal abortion service. Lirisha puts her writing into beautiful words to celebrate the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion.