South Africa

Africa: States Must Ensure Access to Contraceptives Even During COVID-19 Pandemic, UN Experts Say

Geneva — Access to family planning is a human right protected by international law, and States must continue to ensure it even during the COVID-19 pandemic, say UN human rights experts.

Ahead of World Contraception Day on 26 September, the experts* issued the following statement:

"The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on family planning services. Production has been cut and supply chains have been disrupted. Clinics have closed or limited their services, especially in countries with limited resources, and women and adolescent girls cannot get to trained heath care providers.

The right to sexual and reproductive health includes women's freedom to decide whether to be pregnant, how many children to have, and to space pregnancies. It also imposes a core obligation on States to provide the essential medicines of the relevant WHO List which includes contraceptives.

In order to make this a reality, everyone must have access to scientifically based comprehensive sexuality education included in school curricula, as well as timely access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice. This includes unbiased and scientifically based information, the opportunity to make an informed decision, options for counselling, modern short- and long-acting contraceptives, and other methods such as emergency contraception.

Restrictions on freedom of movement imposed to combat the pandemic must not prevent anyone from getting the information that they need and timely access to health care facilities. These provide vital services like screening and managing sexually transmitted infections, support to victims of sexual violence or rape, safe abortions, as well as condoms for men and women or other forms of family planning.

It is especially important to ensure access for those in vulnerable situations or historically subjected to discrimination, such as adolescent girls, migrant women, women with disabilities, urban, slum dwellers, refugees, LGBT and gender diverse persons and communities, and women in the postpartum period.

Choice and access to family planning are central to individual reproductive autonomy and for attaining the UN's Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality and health and well-being - particularly those aimed at ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights and reducing maternal mortality.

If we want to avoid maternal deaths, it is essential to prevent unwanted pregnancies through access to contraception, safe abortion services, and quality post-abortion care. Ahead of the International Safe Abortion Day on 28 September, last year's statement by Special Procedures Mandates Holders stands ever valid.

On the World Contraception Day (26 September) and the International Safe Abortion Day (28 September), we call on States to perform their important role to ensure increased access to quality modern methods of family planning, stigma-free services and evidence-based information. This is part of their obligations under the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health."

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