The Devastating Impact Of Covid 19 On Young People
From Bad to Worse: The COVID-19 Pandemic Risks Further Undermining Adolescents’ Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Many Countries
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, global health programs and institutions failed to fully serve the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people in low- and middle-income countries, leading to critical gaps in information and services. The pandemic is now taking a disproportionate toll on this population, as they find themselves cut off from educational opportunities, at greater risk of human rights violations and with reduced access to health care, all of which could have multigenerational implications. New Guttmacher Institute estimates illustrate the devastating impact the pandemic could have on young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights if policymakers do not take swift action.
An Already Dire Situation
Young people in low- and middle-income countries have experienced persistent inequities in sexual and reproductive health and rights for generations. And now, preexisting gaps are growing in new and harmful ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving people who already had the fewest resources and options in an even more precarious situation. According to Guttmacher data from 2019, 43% of sexually active adolescent women aged 15–19 who want to avoid a pregnancy are not using a modern form of contraception (e.g., hormonal pills, IUDs, condoms). This results in 10 million unintended pregnancies each year and 5.7 million abortions, the majority of which occur in unsafe conditions. Out of the 12 million adolescents who give birth each year, nearly four million do not deliver in a health facility, leaving them without access to skilled care for routine deliveries and newborn care, as well as for obstetric complications.
Embedded in these global statistics are the stories of individual young people and the barriers they face when seeking care. For example, young people in Uganda who were interviewed about their experiences accessing family planning services reported challenges in receiving high-quality, respectful care from providers. One young woman in Kabale, a district in the Western region of the country, expressed concerns about confidentiality and the stigma associated with seeking sexual and reproductive health care, saying, “They spread rumors and if they know you, they can tell your parents when you go to access family planning services.” Such a lack of confidentiality undermines the provider-patient relationship and may discourage young people from seeking services, even if they are in desperate need of care.
Programmatic snapshots from youth advocacy organizations echo these concerns and suggest policymakers’ broader lack of attention to adolescents’ diverse health needs. The International Youth Alliance for Family Planning has been monitoring a number of health facilities in Kampala, Uganda and has reported that even prior to the pandemic, there were shortages of family planning supplies and the costs were often out of reach for young people. Some public health centers, even those positioned to serve university students, provided limited contraceptive methods or counseling, which undermined young people’s ability to make informed and voluntary decisions to protect their health. These individual stories point to an insufficient, patchwork approach to fulfilling adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health needs in low- and middle-income countries.