Estimates of the Potential Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Sexual and Reproductive Health in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 has spread rapidly since emerging in late 2019, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the disease a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Governments around the world have had to quickly adapt and respond to curb transmission of the virus and to provide care for the many who have been infected. The strain that the outbreak imposes on health systems will undoubtedly impact the sexual and reproductive health of individuals living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs); however, sexual and reproductive health will also be affected by societal responses to the pandemic, such as local or national lockdowns that force health services to shut down if they are not deemed essential, as well as the consequences of physical distancing, travel restrictions and economic slowdowns.

The COVID-19 pandemic is already having adverse effects on the supply chain for contraceptive commodities by disrupting the manufacture of key pharmaceutical components of contraceptive methods or the manufacture of the methods themselves (e.g., condoms), and by delaying transportation of contraceptive commodities. In addition, equipment and staff involved in provision of sexual and reproductive health services may be diverted to fulfill other needs, clinics may close and people may be reluctant to go to health facilities for sexual and reproductive health services. Many governments are restricting people’s movements to stem the spread of the virus, and providers are being forced to suspend some sexual and reproductive health services that are not classified as essential, such as abortion care, thus denying people this time-sensitive and potentially life-saving service. For example, the country lockdowns in Nepal and India have forced clinics operated by Marie Stopes International—the largest provider of family planning services in India outside of the public sector—to close. Without concerted action, access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, and the quality of any care that is provided, will likely decline.