India’s grinding coronavirus lockdown is likely to lead to millions of unwanted pregnancies and risky abortions due to restricted access to contraceptives and maternal healthcare in the country of 1.3 billion people, public health experts said.
The Foundation for Reproductive Health Services in a recent research estimated 25.6 million Indian couples were unlikely to access contraceptives because of the coronavirus lockdown, imposed abruptly on March 25.
This is likely to result in 2.3 million unintended pregnancies, 1.4 million abortions including some 834,000 through unsafe methods, said the Delhi-based organsation, an affiliate of Marie Stopes International.
Ipas Development Foundation, dedicated to managing unwanted pregnancies, estimated 1.85 million Indian women were denied timely abortion becuase national birth control programs were briefly shut following the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Some of them will decide to continue with their pregnancies because they don’t have an option and some may want to go in for unsafe abortion which is tragic,” Foundation CEO Vinoj Manning told RFI.
Some state-run abortion centres had reopened but women who needed them were seemed uncertain.
“The women won’t know where to go and second, there will be an out of pocket costs and these are the challenges women and families are going to face,” Manning added.
Women were also reluctant to visit state-run health clinics as many of them have been converted into Covid care centers and staff re-deployed to tackle the pandemic.
India in May began easing the restrictions but several states and larger cities such as Bangalore and Kolkata re-enforced the lockdown mid-July as Covid-19 cases crept close to the million mark.
Contraceptives vanish from drug stores
Drug stores reported fading footfalls because of the erratic lockdown.
“Contraceptives are no more on the priority list of many customers,” Sanjeev Agarwal, a Delhi pharmacist told RFI.
Many Indians reluctant to shop for condoms or emergency pills in neighborhood stores abandoned plans to travel because of the commuting restrictions, he said.
Raymond Consumer Care, which manufactures a hugely-popular brand of condoms, said sales dropped soon after India imposed the world’s biggest lockdown.
“In March, our domestic market sales were down by 50%, and in April, there was a fall of 60%,” company CEO Sudhir Langer told the Hindu newspaper.
India’s government has named contraceptives as essential commodity to ensure uninterrupted supply during lockdown.
“Police personnel don’t accept that these are essential items, which impacts the movement of our stock from warehouses to distributors and to retailers,” Raymond CEO Langer added.
Crisis in poorer countries
Guttmacher Institute, a US-based reproductive health research organization, had warned of similar disruptions in low and middle income countries in Asia, Africa, parts of Europe, Latin America and in the Caribbean.
“In some countries it will be more challenging like in the US where rights and anti-abortion choice movements will have an impact,” commented Manning of the Ipas Development Foundation.
“The Indian government has declared both contraception and abortion as essential services during Covid which in some countries like in Africa or Latin America is not going to happen.
“So we are a bit luckier,” he added.