First Look: The Impact of COVID-19 on Family Planning

First Look: The Impact of COVID-19 on Family Planning
By Jason Bremner

As the pandemic continues into its second year, the full impact on family planning and women and girls access to services still isn’t known, and won’t be for some time. Still, to begin to understand the pandemic’s effects, FP2020 began convening family planning data partners in April 2020 to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting programs and services. This work has focused on four areas:

  1. Developing an early assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on data collection and data systems
  2. Identifying ways government and private sector Health Management Information Systems (HMIS) data or other data can be used to assess family planning service delivery impacts
  3. Monitoring impacts on supply chains
  4. Assessing the use of models and scenarios to estimate impacts on family planning.

While the estimates of family planning progress and data in this year’s progress report do not yet reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have gathered preliminary insights from partners and countries in the report. In addition, we highlight partners’ work to collect data in new and innovative ways.

The progress report features a summary from the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on supply chain impacts and the MICRO tool for modelling the effects of COVID-19 mitigation efforts on supplies, reports from MSI and IPPF on the impact of COVID-19 on their services, a Track20 assessment of public sector service statistics data and the impact of COVID-19 on different contraceptive methods, and lastly, findings from PMA and Nivi data collection. More detail about these findings can be found in the COVID-19 section of the Progress Report.

While the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will not be known for years, the early findings in the Progress Report illustrate what we can glean from commodity tracking, service statistics, partner reports, and the data available from PMA surveys and Nivi. From this early assessment, it appears:

  1. Supply chains for contraceptive commodities were seriously disrupted at the start of the pandemic, but have largely recovered thanks to concerted global effort and collaboration.
  2. The two largest private sector providers — MSI and IPPF — were hit hard early on, but adapted and recovered with mobile services, telehealth, and modified clinic procedures. Neither organization has returned to full capacity, however, and the ongoing service disruptions pose a threat to business operations.
  3. Public sector impacts appear to be highly variable across countries and across contraceptive methods, ranging from extreme downturns in service volume to minimal impact. Public sector data probably reflect gaps in reporting as well as changes in service volume, so more time is needed to develop a clearer picture of the pandemic’s impact.
  4. Data from both PMA and Nivi show the pandemic is affecting people’s willingness to seek services in a clinic setting (due to fears of exposure, uncertainty around clinic operating hours, restricted mobility under “stay at home” orders). The data also show the far wider impacts of the pandemic, beyond just family planning, in areas like loss of income and food insecurity.  These innovative methods of gathering information, like through mobile phone applications and services, have the potential to help fill some of the gaps in data caused by the pandemic.

The next few years will be challenging for family planning data partners as we seek to adapt our systems and methodologies to a world shaped by COVID. FP2030 is committed to working with our partners to illuminate the impact of the pandemic on family planning in countries across the globe.