By Sharon Atieno

With the shutdown and restrictions resulting from COVID-19 pandemic, family planning services especially contraceptives are likely to be disrupted.

According to United Nation’s Population Fund(UNFPA)-the world’s largest procurer of donated contraceptives- the pandemic is beginning to strain global supply chains, as they are facing many challenges with sourcing of products, procuring, freighting and delivery which are stretching timelines and causing severe price fluctuations to generally upwards.

In 2017, contraceptives provided through UNFPA supplies had the potential to reach 15 million users with a choice of quality modern contraceptives. The contraceptives had potential to avert: 7.5 million unintended pregnancies; 18,000 maternal deaths; 114,000 child deaths; and 2.3 million unsafe abortions.

The organization has raised an alarm over the likely delays in supplying of hormonal contraceptives (orals, emergency contraceptives, implants, injectables) and female condoms.

According to Benedict Light, UNFPA’s Senior policy adviser for family planning and reproductive health, UNFPA sources hormonal contraceptives from three geographical regions which include India, Europe and Indonesia.

He notes that in India, supply will be affected because of the nationwide shutdown of production which runs till 14th April and the restriction at the ports and airports in some exempted areas, while in Indonesia, shipping continues according to agreed schedule production prior to crisis but may suffer if crisis endures where active pharmaceutical ingredients are sourced from Europe.

“In Europe, supplies manufacturing is at full capacity although pricing, sourcing, packaging and shipping challenges are anticipated and they will run into the second half of 2020,” Light adds.

With regards to female condoms, he notes that there are limited sources from which the organization is able to procure with the Indian suppliers affected by shutdown and the supplier from Malaysia facing restrictions.

“Currently there are no pre-shipment inspections, so we are dealing with unfamiliar situations on an ongoing basis,” he says.

Light says that delays are also expected in supply of male condoms due to closures in Malaysian factories and restrictions for Indian-based manufacturers. However, with China starting to return to normal and production ongoing in Thailand, there is a certain level of supply.

“In the area of inter-uterine device (IUDs) all UNFPA sources are India based and so subject to constraints of  the shutdown and existing orders are blocked due to port and airport restrictions,” he says.“Currently, UNFPA is not in a position to supply IUDs.”

With one in four reproductive women in Sub-Saharan Africa having an unmet contraception need, the delays in supply coupled with lack of access due to competing priorities such as taking care of entire households and indoor presence of male heads due to work closures and other restrictions, will reverse the progress made in ensuring access and availability of family planning services to all.