The Center for Reproductive Rights collaborated with the Collective for Social Science Research to conduct a fact-finding on the impact of COVID-19 on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls in Sindh province, which includes Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi. A lockdown was imposed across the province of Sindh on March 22 2020 whereby all public places were ordered to be closed except those providing “essential services.” The Sindh government also imposed a ban on movement of persons except for medical care or essential purchases. As COVID-19 cases increased in the month of March 2020 and healthcare facilities rapidly shifted their priorities, a real danger emerged that the availability and accessibility of reproductive health services would be undermined.
The fact-finding was conducted from March to August 2020 and included tracking of media reports, key informant interviews, as well as a consultation with reproductive health experts. Our findings show that with the onset of the pandemic, the availability of reproductive health services, including contraception, safe abortion services and obstetric services in Sindh declined. In the initial weeks of the pandemic, the federal and provincial governments, health facilities and healthcare providers shifted their resources towards the pandemic and deprioritized SRH services. In addition, the vulnerability of women to domestic violence increased and services to protect women from violence became unavailable during the lockdown. Based on the findings we have made a number of recommendations to government, courts and civil society to take steps to ensure availability of SRH services during the pandemic including: ensuring that these services are deemed “essential” during any emergency measures taken to deal with the pandemic; expanding telehealth services for women and girls seeking obstetric care and contraception; and making sure that courts remain accessible to women and girls vulnerable to violence.