ARMENIA – Sexual and reproductive health and rights during the Covid-19 pandemic

During the period of March 20 to May 20, Women’s Resource Center conducted on-line interviews with 62 gynaecologists and 14 women who have sought sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services during lockdown, to discover the situation regarding their sexual and reproductive health rights during the Covid-19 pandemic in Armenia. The monitoring revealed that the Ministry of Health had made a decision that all healthcare facilities should postpone all non-essential surgeries. But no other regulations on SRHR issues were made for the period of the state of emergency.

Abortion services were provided by many doctors. No hospitals reported delayed abortions, although many women had difficult accessing transport to reach abortion services. Moreover, medical abortion was not widely offered by the doctors, so the women did have a lack of access to that. Maternity hospitals operated normally, and contraceptive methods were available in most of the pharmacies surveyed.

A follow-up online survey (a formative assessment) was conducted among women during June to August 2020. In that survey, 65 of 106 respondents reported seeking sexual and reproductive health services from a gynaecologist, while all 106 women answered questions on the health self-assessment and general influence of Covid-19 on their sexual and reproductive health. About 80% of the respondents were aged 18-35 and were from Yerevan.

Pregnancy was the most common reason for seeing a gynaecologist (26 of 65); only one woman reported having gone for an abortion.

Women reported that 93% of the doctors wore masks, but only 63% wore gloves, only 42% sanitised their hands before the examination and only 32% afterwards.

Overall, 75% of the women said Covid-19 did not affect their sexual or reproductive health, but nine women with a genital condition reported being unable to visit a doctor, a planned gynaecological intervention was cancelled in seven cases, appropriate SRH services were not available in six cases, while five women avoided seeing a gynaecologist due to fear of Covid-19, in spite of having a serious health problem.

To improve services, the authors of the survey made a number of recommendations that included:

  • To present the findings of the survey to the Ministry of Health and other stakeholder bodies in order for them to ensure better quality of the services fully complying to the requirements set for the period of the pandemic.
  • To organise an on-line meeting for the SRH specialists and discuss the shortcomings revealed through the survey and the required procedures set for the pandemic as kind of refresher and reminder session.
  • To organise a series of trainings or capacity building sessions for:
    • Medical workers on medical ethics, confidentiality, appropriate attitude and conduct to female patients, specifics of conduct during the pandemic.
    • Young girls and women on overcoming shame of applying to SRH services, My body, my rights, SRH diseases and their early detection.
    • Newly married couples (both husbands and wives) on family life, sexual and reproductive health, conflict resolution techniques, child upbringing, healthy relationships.

SOURCE: Influence of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Sexual and Reproductive Health Services, by the Women’s Resource Center, Armenia, in CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, 2021;1(198) ; VISUAL: Women of Armenia home page