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World Refugee Day: Access to SRHR is crucial to any emergency response

Saturday 20 June 2020 Marie Stopes International Contraception, Safe abortion and post abortion care, Humanitarian situations

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As the world is fighting a global pandemic, which is forcing a significant number of people into quarantines in their own homes, millions of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) continue to be stranded in camps and informal settlements.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is no doubt having a devastating impact on many people around the world, for the millions already living in refugee camps and in uncertain circumstances, it has meant a crisis on top of a crisis. Refugee settlements tend to be densely populated, with people living in crowded communities with little room for social distancing practices, making these communities exposed and susceptible to outbreaks. And as the pandemic is pushing already stretched health systems to breaking point, with resources reallocated to support the COVID-response, there is an added risk that the most vulnerable are left behind.

During times of crisis, women and girls are already disproportionately affected and their health and protection needs are often neglected. But neglecting women’s needs, including access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, can have serious consequences. In times of crisis, women are at increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence and the number of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and maternal deaths are significantly increased. But despite a continued and intensified need, SRH services are often undervalued and de-prioritised, leaving refugees, IDPs and other groups affected by displacement without access to vital services. With refugee and displaced communities already more vulnerable, facing increased risk of pregnancy related injuries and deaths, we need to make sure that access to SRH services remains a priority in emergency response.

“The women were rushing to come round to collect our services, even when they were being chased from their homes.

“It was very heart wrenching. They were living in the bush or forest. But they were so afraid of becoming pregnant in such an uncertain environment. So when they heard there was family planning, they still rushed to come and get it, and then ran back to where they were hiding again.

“That shows how much these services are wanted by women here.”

MSI team member in Nigeria following a visit to the North-Eastern part of the country when Boko Haram militants were forcing communities from their homes.

Access to SRH services is empowering, cost-effective and can be life-saving, yet progress to integrate these services in emergency response has not kept pace with the escalating threats facing women and girls. Consequently, many women and girls are forced to contend with an unmet need for family planning and unintended pregnancies, in addition to the traumas of conflict, disaster and displacement they already carry. We know that refugees and other displaced people, who have access to SRH services, are better supported on their way to a healthier future and can benefit from the positive impact these services have on the individual and the community at large.

In order to increase our ability to reach those most vulnerable in crisis, partnerships across sectors are crucial. In Tanzania, for example, we teamed up with International Rescue Committee (IRC) to deliver integrated sexual and reproductive health services and support for gender-based violence prevention and response activities in refugee camps. We are working in partnership, bringing our technical expertise through an embedded nurse approach to deliver contraceptive services within the camps. To date, we have trained and supported several IRC nurses who are now delivering long acting contraceptive methods, enabling women to take back control over aspects of their life and allowing them to focus on the other challenges at hand.

At MSI, we are committed to providing life-changing reproductive health services and to leave no one behind. For us, sexual and reproductive health is an essential human right; a life-saving component of any emergency response, pandemic or otherwise.

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