COVID-19 is taking its toll on sexual and reproductive health in the country.

The global pandemic has thrown up challenges to the government's goals of reducing maternal and child mortality rate while unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion have increased due to lack of access to contraceptives and safe abortion service, according to the Department of Health Services under the Family Welfare Division.

The use of contraceptives has dropped to 39.37 per cent during the pandemic. Onehundred-and-thirty-four new mothers and pregnant women lost their lives during the infection between 24 March and 21 July 2020 when the country was in lockdown and the number of women who received safe abortion service during the same period was less than 15,000, according to the department.

Lack of transportation and qualified health workers, excessive bleeding, abortion and labour complication as well as delivery at home were among the factors that led to their death.

However, there is no data on the death of newborns and children below five years of age during the period.

The Nepal Health Sector Strategy 2016-2021 has aimed to drop maternal mortality rate to 125 per 100,000 live births.

Similarly, the country under the Sustainable Development Goals, has aimed to reduce mortality rate of newborns and children below five years of age to 12 and 20 respectively per 1,000 live births. These aims seem unattainable due to the infection, it is said.

"Unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion have increased during the pandemic due to lack of access to and unavailability of contraceptives and lack of safe abortion service in time. As a result, sexual and reproductive health service indicators have been affected," said Dr Mahesh Puri, co-director of the Centre for Research on Environment, Health and Population Activities.

According to the World Health Organisation, child and maternal mortality rate could be reduced to 10 and 30 per cent respectively if family planning services were expanded.

According to a study carried out by CREHPA, Nepal witnessed 323,000 cases of abortion annually, out of which 42 per cent from registered health institutions and 58 from unregistered ones.

The figure has dropped by one-third during lockdown due to the coronavirus infection, it is said.

So far, 530 health institutions have been registered across the country to provide safe abortion service.

Nepal legalised safe abortion in 2002. The national policy related to safe abortion, 2003, has been implemented.

A version of this article appears in the print on December 27, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.