Unintended Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Sexual and Reproductive Health of Youth

Maternity specialist and pregnant woman with face mask at checkup visit, meeting to talk about pregnancy. Future mother with baby bump asking for medical advice from physician at cabinet desk.

The 2020 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led public health officials to recommend a reduction in routine healthcare services. These services are limited to life-saving and urgent evaluations to limit the spread of infection, protect healthcare workers, and conserve personal protective equipment. However, an unintended consequence of a reduction in services is the inaccessibility of sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) services, such as contraception and screening and treatment of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Decreased SRH access is of particular importance for youth (aged 15e24 years), who have the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and STIs. The rate of STIs has increased for the fifth consecutive year and is a public health crisis of its own. Untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea infection may result in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID can lead to chronic pelvic pain, tubal factor infertility, and ectopic pregnancyd all of which may negatively impact a woman’s future reproductive potential.

Youth routinely access SRH services at health centers (e.g., federally qualified health centers, local public health departments), Planned Parenthood sites, school-based or schoollinked health centers, and traditional clinical sites such as pediatric and family medicine primary care offices. These locations typically offer comprehensive integrated servicesdmedical and mental health, counseling, reproductive, and social services for youthdas well as tangible resources such as condoms and on-site birth control pills and STI treatment. Despite these resources, youth still experience barriers to accessing SRH services such as loss of confidentiality, geographic accessibility, and stigma (i.e., feelings of shyness and shame). Widespread “stay-at-home” executive orders, reduced public transportation options, and reassignment of providers who usually provide care at places frequented by youth will only further limit access.