A World Contraception Day without precedent highlights the need for data on COVID-19 and family planning

This Saturday, September 26th, marks the 13th annual global campaign known as World Contraception Day, or #WCD2020 to social media users. The mission of the day is to improve awareness of available family planning methods and enable young people to make informed decisions about their reproductive health.

Aubrey Weber, Technical Officer, Research Utilization, FHI 360
Reana Thomas, Technical Officer, Research Utilization, FHI 360

Research for Scalable Solutions (R4S) is a USAID-funded implementation science project that aims to increase the production and use of evidence to improve voluntary family planning programs around the world. Specifically, R4S focuses on generating evidence to advance self-care and client-driven approaches for family planning; increasing information about the scale, quality, cost, and cost-effectiveness of implementing High Impact Practices; improving understanding and measurement of equity within programs; and sharing information to support voluntary family planning use and method choice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Led by FHI 360 in partnership with Evidence for Sustainable Human Development Systems in AfricaMakerere University School of Public Health (Makerere SPH) in Uganda, Population Services International (PSI), and Save the Children, R4S works with a range of country-based stakeholders to strengthen research and research utilization capacity and support countries in their journey to self-reliance. For R4S’s fifth blog post, we reflect on the unique context in which we commemorate World Contraception Day, and how R4S is contributing to a better understanding of the challenges that COVID-19 poses to voluntary use of family planning.

This Saturday, September 26th, marks the 13th annual global campaign known as World Contraception Day, or #WCD2020 to social media users. The day marks an opportunity to improve awareness of and inform decisions about available contraceptive methods.

The family planning landscape looks quite different this year, as countries all over the world grapple with a global pandemic. This pandemic has caused disruptions to health services as countries impose curfews, physical distancing, and stay-at-home orders and people avoid seeking care out of fear of becoming infected with COVID-19. With so many new barriers to access, it is more essential than ever to find ways to serve the family planning needs of women and couples. This day reminds us how important it is to produce a substantial body of evidence on how COVID-19 is affecting access to and use of contraception. The R4S team has listened and learned as organizations and committees like Family Planning 2020; IBP Network’s COVID-19 and family planning task team; Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition; and our own partners at PSI, bilaterals in Kenya and Zimbabwe, and Save the Children have turned to virtual spaces to share their unique experiences and challenges.

What we need now are data. We must be able to understand the disruptions caused by COVID-19 from settings across the globe. We need to collectively ask questions to understand how family planning and reproductive health have been affected. In response to this need, the R4S team developed a series of survey questions in English and French that can be added to ongoing or planned studies and activities to systematically capture the effects of the pandemic and recovery process on family planning access and use. The questions intend to capture information on unintended pregnancies, family planning need and use, source of supply, method choice and switching, barriers to obtaining methods, interest in self-administered contraceptive options, and removals of long-acting reversible contraception.

We are currently using this survey in three longitudinal studies across seven countries. The questions also are currently being disseminated broadly, and we encourage anyone who is able to integrate them into ongoing or planned studies to do so. We hope that through partnerships, we can make the collected data widely available to continue our response and prepare for what is next.

To request the Word document version of R4S’s “Documenting the Effects of COVID-19 on Family Planning Access and Use with Standardized Questions”, please email R4Sinfo@fhi360.org.

Photo: Jessica Scranton/FHI 360

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