Regardless of the pandemic and resulting lockdown, women and girls have the right to access reproductive health services

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic since the past one-and-a-half years has particularly affected women and girls from enjoying their reproductive rights as the entire health system of the country has been overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

Doctors and health workers are pressed into proving medical services to these people, leaving behind women and girls from getting the much needed pre- and post-delivery services at all the health facilities.

The problem is more acute in the rural areas, where reproductive health services are hardly available.

That is why many women die during labour due to lack of parturition services in the rural parts of the country. Many women and girls in the rural areas, especially the districts of Karnali Province, need to airlift pregnant women for delivery. Considering the severity of the problem, the government has decided to build at least on helipad in each ward of all the rural municipalities so that women undergoing intense labour pain can be airlifted quickly to the neatest hospital for delivery. But only a few of them are lucky to get airlifted, that too, only when they receive media attention or influential people mount pressure on the local administration.

Although it is unclear about the impact of COV- ID-19 on the reproductive rights of women and girls, the UNFPA has anticipated that there has been significant increase in unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and preventable maternal deaths during the peaks of the pandemic.

The pandemic in certain contexts has resulted in couples having to postpone childbearing, whereas in other countries, it has resulted in a rise in unintended pregnancies, mostly due to disruption in the provision of reproductive health services. In Nepal's context, most hospitals even in urban centres, have advised pregnant women to avoid visiting the health facilities unless it is urgent.

UNFPA has said the utilisation of family planning and maternal health services dropped drastically across the Nepal due to several reasons during the COVID lockdown periods as the financial and human resources were diverted to fight the pandemic.

Regardless of the pandemic and resulting lockdown, women and girls have the right to access reproductive health services from the health facilities as usual.

As the pandemic will stay until there is universal access to vaccines, women and girls must be able to exercise their reproductive rights and choices. The health system must uphold their right as it is an essential service. In 2019, the Nepal government made a strong pledge at the Nairobi Summit to protect women's reproductive rights and accelerate action towards achieving the summit agenda. The impact of COVID-19 has been pronounced more on the vulnerable and marginalised groups, who lack easy access to health facilities when they need them the most, especially during pregnancies. All the hospitals across the country must give top priority to providing easy and hassle-free reproductive health services even during the lockdown periods. All the hospitals can set aside a separate ward for reproductive health services. Saving a life is important, but saving an unborn life is even more important.

Lightning strikes

Lightning has killed two persons in Udaypur district.

But they are not the first victims of lightning this season and definitely will not be the last. With the start of the monsoon rains, the attention of both the government and the people is overly focused on mitigating the damage from floods and landslides.

But it might come as a surprise to many that lightning ranks third among major natural hazards in the country, with as many as 94 fatalities recorded in 2019. Unlike floods, landslides or earthquakes, lightning rarely causes mass casualties, a reason why it tends to be ignored. Yet in some years, lightning strikes have killed more people than floods in Nepal.

There is, thus, a need to create awareness about the hazards of this natural disaster. Both the victims in Udaypur on Tuesday were struck by lightning while they were planting paddy saplings. In neighbouring India, too, 18 farm labourers were killed on Monday while working in the rice fields in Uttar Pradesh, while another 20 people died the same day in Rajasthan, 11 of them while taking selfies in Amber Fort.

People must be told to stay indoors and avoid taking shelter under trees when there is lightning and thunderstorm to stay safe.

A version of this article appears in the print on July 15 2021, of The Himalayan Times.