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World Contraception Day

COVID-19: Women Up Front

World Contraception Day 2020

In March 2020, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 emerged worldwide, and the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. The virus spread, straining health systems around the world. As a sexual and reproductive health and rights organization, we know one thing—access to contraception saves women’s lives. But as health systems are strained, access to this critical commodity is challenged:

• Supply chains for contraceptives are disrupted.
• Health workers once focused on contraceptive services have pivoted to respond to the pandemic.
• Forced curfews and lockdowns leave women at home without access to contraceptives.
• Critical sexual and reproductive health needs haven taken a back seat.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a modest decline of even 10% in access to SRHR care could have severe long-term impacts, including:

This World Contraception Day (September 26th) we pledge to continue
supporting access to contraception despite this sustained global pandemic.
Since the pandemic’s beginning, Pathfinder has worked tirelessly to rapidly adapt our global programs and support sexual and reproductive health care as COVID-19 continues to spread. The challenge and scope are unprecedented— but we have, and will continue to, rise to the occasion.

Support access to contraception during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Raise Your Voice

Our obligation to advocate, now, more than ever

Dear Pathfinders,

Around the time that the Guttmacher Institute published devastating estimates of the potential impact of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)— that 49 million additional women could go without contraceptives, leading to 15 million more unplanned pregnancies —Pathfinder’s India team was galvanizing an advocacy movement in India’s Bihar State to ensure these predictions never came true.

By engaging local civil society organizations in strategic and sustained advocacy for maintaining SRHR services during COVID-19, we convinced the Bihar government to enact a policy declaring  SRHR services essential during the pandemic.

Bihar became the first state in India to declare SRHR essential, with others following suit. This has meant that despite lockdowns and excess strains on the health system, women and girls of reproductive age—totaling more than 25 million in Bihar—can get the services they need, including contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancies.

Since our founding, and especially now during a global pandemic, advocacy has been a critical part of supporting high-quality and widely accessible SRHR services in the countries we serve. We work across the global health continuum—from international networks to national influencers to local community-based organizations, women, girls, and young people—to strategically bring about policy changes that support an enabling environment for SRHR. At the international level, for example, we are at the table to make sure SRHR is part and parcel of universal health coverage and primary health care.

In the countries where we work, we are a part of the communities we serve. Our staff come from those communities and know the organizations on the ground. We build the capacity of local organizations to be on the frontlines, leading the advocacy efforts and sustaining the momentum long after a Pathfinder program has come to an end. Through our local partners in Nigeria, we quickly learned that cases of gender-based violence were skyrocketing during COVID-19 lockdowns, leading Pathfinder to advocate with partners toward reopening gender-based violence support centers, despite the lockdowns.

 

 

 

 

We advocate for policies that are mutually beneficial to Pathfinder as an SRHR organization and governments trying to improve the health of their communities. Our advocacy to governments for making SRHR services essential during COVID-19, for example, will curb unintended pregnancies and their associated morbidities and mortalities, as well as the devastating ripple effects that unplanned births can have on a society.

Despite our shift to remote work, advocacy continues unabated. We’ve moved our capacity building for local organizations online and regularly check in with our government partners to ensure SRHR is not de-prioritized during this global crisis—when women and girls need these services more than ever.

Pathfinder has been an SRHR organization for 63 years. We know what works and what doesn’t work. We have an obligation to share our evidence with decisionmakers and encourage them to do the right thing because the health and lives of millions of women, girls, and their communities depend on us fulfilling our obligation.

We’re in this together. Let’s prove the Guttmacher predictions wrong. Let’s continue to push for women and girls to have the services they need despite every barrier they have before them—even a global pandemic.

 


Crystal Lander
Executive Director of Global Affairs
Pathfinder International

Reaching Youth, Reaching Educators

If there is one thing a young community educator for sexual health needs to have, it’s understanding. At age 28, Precious Anslem has a lot of it.

 

Learn more about Pathfinder Nigeria.

Growing up in Abuja, Nigeria, Precious lived on his own since he was 15, facing numerous temptations and challenges. Drug abuse and risky behaviors were common in his community. “There were a lot of social vices around me when I was growing up,” he said.

But he was resilient, channeling the obstacles that confronted him into opportunities. At just 15, he started working odd jobs at construction sites to get by. But Precious wanted more. By age 20, he began to volunteer at a local non-profit that worked with youth.

At first, he is honest to admit, he had no idea what he was doing. “I was a blank check. I had to learn on the job. The language was new… so I had to start by volunteering. No one had the time to show me what to do.”

It was around that time that Precious encountered Pathfinder Nigeria. Early on in his work, he attended a seminar Pathfinder held on FC2, a female condom.

Fast-forward to today, where Precious focuses his energy on two main roles: working as an outreach coordinator for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Abuja, and as a programs coordinator at the local youth-friendly health clinic.

His work continues to complement Pathfinder’s program, Optimizing HIV Investments for Impact. Each month, Precious travels to local communities, coordinates HIV testing, and then follows up to get those who test positive the medication they need.

“Pathfinder really contributed to my knowledge. They helped build my confidence, and made me feel energized,” said Precious.

Today, as the world faces the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19, organizations like Pathfinder, and advocates like Precious, are even more critical. Ongoing education and advocacy—amidst the challenges brought by COVID-19—are critical components to ensuring that the sexual and reproductive health landscape in Nigeria is bright.

Community First for COVID-19 Response

Picture this: A woman, in labor. She’s at home, it’s the middle of the night, and she is afraid to head to her local health facility for fear she will be arrested…

Many women in Kenya faced this very challenge at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and during the resultant 7 p.m.– 4 a.m. curfew. Rampant misinformation, fear, and a lack of guidance meant that many women were giving home births and not getting the critical sexual and reproductive health care they needed.

“We lost mothers because of the delay in access to health services,” said Eileen Mokaya, Country Director of Pathfinder in Kenya. “They were fearful because of the curfew. If you were caught, you were put in the police station. In the first month (of COVID-19), we had a number of maternal deaths. And they could have been avoided.”

Knowing that the curfews were prohibitive—that women needed continued access to maternal and neonatal health care from skilled health providers in safe health centers—our Afya Pwani program mobilized rapidly.

The first step? Recruiting, mapping, and certifying local boda boda drivers— think a motorbike Uber for pregnant women.

“We worked with local administration and county department health officials to identify boda bodas,” said Mokaya. “They get a letter to say they can carry pregnant women to the facilities. We got people the police knew, who have good records, and they were given the leeway to carry the women. We then saw the progress—women came back to the health facilities.”

 

Our Impacts

Photo Credit: Donwilson Odhiambo Odongo

Next, Afya Pwani made the local referral system to health centers more robust. While there was a local calling center in place, the staff didn’t always know how to manage referrals, as certain health centers were designated for triage and others for services like maternal health and birthing due to COVID-19. Pathfinder worked to put qualified clinicians into the call center.

“We realized, when someone random picks up the phone they might mis-prioritize the need. But if you have a midwife, she can say where the woman needs to go and who is there to help attend to her needs. This saved lives,” said Mokaya.

And the most important part of Afya Pwani’s strategy, the one that runs through each adaptation? Listening. “Communities have the answers,” said Mokaya. “Our philosophy is community first. Listen to them and they will figure out how to solve the problems.”

Masks for Sale!

Like in many other parts of the world, wearing a face mask in public has become mandatory in Kenya to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Masks can be easy to find, but prohibitively expensive for many in rural areas and informal settlements. In Kilifi, one of Kenya’s coastal counties, many pregnant women could not access life-saving maternal health care for lack of masks.

To alleviate this challenge, Afya Pwani trained expectant mothers from the Bomani health center on needlework. The women stitch and produce masks out of locally available cloth and sell them for KES 25 (23 U.S. cents) per mask, a cost well below the market price of $3. The group also distributes masks to those who cannot afford them.

“We make 150 masks daily,” said Hellen Mose, the group’s chairwoman. “We work in shifts, enabling breaks during work hours as well as maintaining social distancing.” The benefits reach beyond preventing the spread of COVID-19. “I can now afford to feed my family without much worry,” said Mose. “I feel appreciated and acknowledged in my family.”

Meet Pathfinder’s Acacia Circle

Pathfinder’s Acacia Circle is an inclusive, dynamic community for the next generation of humanitarians, philanthropists, and allies who are passionate about advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world.

Members have the opportunity to connect with each other while learning more about philanthropy and deepening their understanding of Pathfinder’s work.

These champions and leaders will raise awareness, encourage other individuals to get involved, and ultimately expand Pathfinder’s capacity to accelerate our mission of advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide.

Learn more about the Acacia Circle.