Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
MOST countries within the Southern African Development Committee (Sadc) region failed to mainstream sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) into their Covid-19 response, leaving many women and girls without vital services during the pandemic.
According to the 2020 Sadc Gender Barometer which was launched on Monday August 16, many girls and women are struggling without vital services and support throughout the region during the pandemic.
Statistics show that in the region, more than 600 120 people have contracted the virus with 11 738 deaths and 447 943 recoveries.
The pandemic has not only affected healthcare service delivery but led to a spike in the abuse of women and girls including in Zimbabwe.
The barometer also noted that maternal mortality remains high across the region, despite political commitment to reduce it as the target remains 70 deaths per 100 000 women.
“Of the 16 Sadc countries, 14 now have stand-alone policies or guidelines on sexual and reproductive health and rights besides Angola and DRC. However, many countries failed to mainstream SRHR into their Covid-19 responses, leaving women and girls without vital services and support throughout the region during the pandemic,” reads the barometer.
The document said only six countries including Lesotho, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have removed Value Added Tax (VAT) from menstrual hygiene products.
“Only five countries; Botswana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Seychelles, and Zambia now provide free sanitary pads in schools. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the need for clean water and sanitary facilities for menstrual hygiene and highlighted the lack of clean water in many Sadc communities.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, according to the barometer, has also highlighted many gaps in health systems in the region, underscoring the need for countries to adhere to their Universal Health Coverage commitments.
“Governments have struggled to keep commitments to achieving universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Menstrual health and harmful practices for adolescents are not receiving sufficient attention,” read the barometer.
“Restrictions linked to the pandemic have worsened existing gender inequalities and left many women and girls without options to escape violent settings as governments across the region shuttered clinics and shelters and limited response mechanisms. Fifty seven percent of women surveyed in Zimbabwe said men had forced them to offer sexual favours in exchange for jobs, medical care, and even when seeking placements at schools for their children.” — @thamamoe