KOLKATA: Poor access to contraceptives available at state-run hospitals because of lockdown will result in lakhs of unwanted mature and pre-mature pregnancies, leading to a spurt in unsafe abortions, maternal deaths and the next year’s birth rate, the state health department fears.
Health officials say family planning services at government facilities are badly hit because of poor access to contraceptives, such as condoms and oral pills, because of the lockdown phases necessitated by Covid-19 pandemic.
Data available at a prominent state-run hospital in Kolkata shows only 3,820 persons collected contraceptives in April, May and June this year while the figure was 15,760 last year for the same period. Similarly, only 35% collected oral pills in the past three months when 1,394 people turned up for the facility during the last year.
In another government hospital in Kolkata, over 44,000 persons collected contraceptives in the first three months and then the figure dropped to around 20,500 till last month since the lockdown was imposed.
“During the first phase of the lockdown that started from March-end to early June, family planning programmes at government hospitals, such as abortion, inserting postpartum intrauterine contraceptive device, distributing condoms, contraceptive pills and injections, almost came to a halt. Legal abortion clinics run by private organisations and private clinics were not functional across the state. There was a scarcity of contraceptive pills,’’ said an official of the health department.
The official said many women who conceived 20 weeks ago could not go to a clinic or healthcare centre for abortion. “Now, these women cannot go for abortion legally. As a result, if they try to adopt illegal ways, it will cause risk to their lives,’’ he said. “Many women also missed their contraceptive cycle and renewal of oral pills during lockdown. In such cases, the foetus might get harmed. These women needed surgical abortion which was not possible.’’
Another senior official of the health department said, “Since the women, who became victims of unwanted pregnancy, could not go for abortion, we are expecting a spurt in the birth rate between end of this year and February, 2021. As a result, government hospitals will have a heavy footfall of mothers with advanced stages of pregnancy.’’
Ismat Ara Khatun, secretary of Accredited Social Health Activist’s (ASHA) union in Bengal, says the supply of contraceptive pills and condoms was inadequate at healthcare centres.
“We have started a door-to-door programme enabling us to prepare a database to ascertain what the present situation is and what it would be like in the near future,’’ she said.