Optimizing the World Health Organization COVID-19 Guidance

On June 1, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO)released “Maintaining essential health services: operational guidance for the COVID-19 context.” The WHO guidance outlines strategies governments should take to ensure populations retain access to essential health services, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH) care, during and beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Civil society advocates and other stakeholders play a key role in ensuring access to SRH services and information remain available and that such services are not deprioritized during a health emergency. They are well-positioned to understand the policy and practical implications of crises on vulnerable populations and how these groups’ health needs can best be met. Sustaining positive SRH outcomes during the pandemic is critical to ensuring countries are better prepared in the long term — including in the event of future global health threats — to successfully expand upon SRH gains as a number of countries roll out universal health coverage schemes.

This document, developed with the input of international nongovernmental organizations and local civil society actors to support the implementation of the WHO guidance at the country level, recommends concrete policy, programmatic and budgetary decisions to optimize and implement the WHO guidance and other relevant SRH guidelines at the national and subnational levels. As a living document, the recommendations provide a snapshot of the current context. This document is designed to be updated with new evidence and advocacy recommendations by governments, technical experts, civil society and advocates worldwide with the COVID-19 response and through recovery.

To ensure SRH remains a priority and the SRH needs and rights of women, young people and vulnerable populations are met, this document:

  1. Provides an overview of the WHO guidance as it relates to SRH;
  2. Outlines some of the initial country-level adaptations of the WHO guidance related to SRH;
  3. Proposes additional considerations necessary to ensure SRH for all populations and their diversity of needs across different contexts; and
  4. Makes recommendations to operationalize the WHO guidance and prioritize SRH.