The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has insisted that despite the enormous pressure exacted on the healthcare system across nations due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual and reproductive health services remain essential.
Speaking in Abuja on the occasion of the 2021 World Population Day, recently, the UNFPA Country Representative in Nigeria, Ms. Ulla E. Mueller, called for quick action to close the gaps and stand up for the rights and choices of all women and girls everywhere.
According to her: “Let us take action to close these gaps, because sexual and reproductive health services are essential. Even if health systems are understandably strained, these services cannot wait. Any further delays will curtail the health and well-being of women and girls, consequences that can last a lifetime.
“Let us work together to uphold the right to decide when and if to have a family and let us stand up for the rights and choices of all women and girls everywhere.”
Mueller, however, noted that: “COVID-19 has laid bare stark inequalities and weaknesses in healthcare systems within and among countries including Nigeria.
“The crisis has caused many overstretched health systems to scale back sexual and reproductive health services, which are often not deemed essential.
“While these services are a human right, they have been shunted aside in favour of more “pressing” concerns. Amid economic pressures and budget cuts, there is a real risk that some countries including Nigeria may fail to restore these services.”
She further reiterated that: “The COVID-19 pandemic may have lasting consequences on population. For some, it has led to postponing childbearing. For others, disruptions in health care have led to unintended pregnancies.
“Although we have yet to get a full picture of the impact of COVID-19 on fertility, these trends have provoked alarmist concerns about baby booms or busts.
“What should cause alarm is when women cannot exercise their sexual and reproductive rights and choices – whether because health services are interrupted, or because gender discrimination prevents them from making decisions about accessing health care, using contraception or engaging in sex with their partner.”
Mueller , however, lamented that in Nigeria, only 46% of women aged 15-49 are able to make decisions regarding their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Right (SRHR).
She further argued that: “What does lead to healthy and productive societies is when women can make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health, and when they have access to services to support their choices.
“A woman who has control over her body gains not only in terms of autonomy, but also through advances in health and education, income and safety. She is more likely to thrive, and so is her family.”
On his part, the Executive Chairman, National Population Commission (NPC), Alhaji Isa Kwarra, , advocated for the commitment of all stakeholders to prevent population boom as well as Gender Based Violence (GBV).
Represented by Dr Sulaiman Ismaila, Federal Commissioner for Kano, Kwara emphasised the need for prioritising reproductive health and rights of women and girls.
“The National Population Commission sees this as:
“An opportunity, a responsibility and a call to duty by all here today to ensure women’s rights are protected, promoted and guaranteed.
“Creating opportunities to allow them make choices that will enhance their well-being and enable them to lead productive lives,” he said.
The NPC Chairman, however, lamented the low level of contraceptive prevalence rate as well as access to family planning commodities, saying “regrettably, Gender Based Violence has been on the increase.”