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Denial of Sexual and Reproductive Health Care: A Man-Made Emergency

In ReliefWeb, Stephanie Johanssen, senior advocacy officer and UN representative for the Women’s Refugee Commission, writes this piece in response to a request to remove references to sexual and reproductive health from the UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response plan.

“Even When You Are Afraid, You Stay,” said a 2017 study exploring the role of nurses and their ability to continue routine and emergency maternity services during the time of the Ebola virus epidemic in Sierra Leone. Among its findings was that while services continued, the fear of Ebola and mistrust kept women from accessing care at a health facility. Even for those who did visit a health facility, an increase in maternal mortality was observed.

Some governments are choosing to ignore the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis. In a recent letter to the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, the Acting Administrator of USAID asked the UN to remove references to sexual and reproductive health and its derivatives from the UN’s COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan.

Ensuring the rights and needs of women and girls are met from the very onset of an emergency has been neglected for far too long. The Women’s Refugee Commission’s (WRC’s) 1994 landmark report “Refugee Women and Reproductive Health Care: Reassessing Priorities” found that in the majority of refugee settings, comprehensive reproductive health services were not provided.