Ensuring that Reproductive Health Services are Accessible during COVID-19

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(Photo: Amref Health Africa)

July 14, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in lower usage of family planning services and Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) services. The Kenyan government’s ban on public gatherings and orders to minimize movement and to practice social distance have contributed to the low service uptake, especially in areas where Amref Health Africa was using community meetings to promote the use of going to a clinic for family planning.

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the ability of community health workers to support RMNCAH services by creating awareness in their community of these services and to make referrals to health facilities. The supply chain for health supplies has also been interrupted. Women no longer feel safe going to antenatal care visits out of fear of being infected with COVID-19.

This has not stopped Amref Health Africa from ensuring that communities can still access these services. Working with local partners, we have ensured that some maternal health services are available for free by facilitating hospital referrals for obstetric emergencies (both labor and miscarriage) during curfew hours.

Our partnership with various county governments has seen an increase in the availability and provision of family planning and RMNCAH services. We have facilitated the employment of contracted health workers in Turkana County, a very remote and dry area of Kenya, where there is already a shortage of health workers. These health workers are on the frontline, ensuring the continuity of family planning and RMNCAH services while educating communities on how to protect themselves from COVID-19.

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We are supporting frontline health workers to list and follow up on clients who miss important appointment such as antenatal care, family planning, immunization, the collection of TB drugs, and anti-retroviral therapy for people with HIV. For family planning services, we have promoted the use of appointments to avoid overcrowding the health facilities and to facilitate continuity of other services without disruption.

We are ensuring the availability of supplies for family planning and RMNCAH services by helping health facilities take rapid stock of their inventory. We then use that information to inform the redistribution of supplies within and across neighboring counties. For example, we took stock in Turkana County and helped redistribute some of its supplies to other health facilities that were lacking, while distributing the surplus to the neighboring Marsabit County.

Amref is leading a campaign to educate health workers on COVID-19 using its mobile learning platform LEAP to enable them to provide critical information to communities. To date, we have reached over 56,000 community health workers across 31 counties. We continue to use dialogue with community leadership and engage community health workers and local youth champions to promote RMNCAH and COVID-19 messages. Media engagement, primarily through radio programs, has become critical in shaping conversations around COVID-19 and promoting the use of both family planning and RMNCAH services.

In line with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines to maintain essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, community-based care has continued to play a critical part in ensuring the sustainability of essential health services in the community. We are working with youth to sensitize their peers on COVID-19 at the community level using WhatsApp, a popular messaging app. Use of virtual platforms to conduct meetings and online dissemination of sexual and reproductive health and COVID-19 messages has ensured the continuity of these services.

Moving forward, we can ensure the continuity of these services in the target communities by adhering to the COVID-19 government guidelines and establishing new and innovative ways of reaching target populations with health services.