White Ribbon Alliance Global Secretariat Calls on USAID Administrator to Recognize Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare Essential in COVID-19 Response and Refrain from Politicizing these Vital Health Services

May 27, 2020 | GS, News, Press Release

In a continuation of actions that politicize sexual, reproductive health and rights, and put hard-won gains in maternal, newborn and child health at risk, Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa recently called upon the UN Secretary General to remove sexual and reproductive health from what is considered essential in the COVID-19 response. The White Ribbon Alliance Global Secretariat stands in support of comprehensive sexual, reproductive health and rights, including abortion. While USAID’s position on abortion, and no U.S. foreign assistance funds being used for abortion, is clear, the consequences of diminishing sexual and reproductive health services more broadly will lead to devastating, and preventable, loss of life and must not be politicized.

Investing in comprehensive and respectful sexual and reproductive healthcare improves the health and lives of individuals and families and strengthens communities and countries in ordinary times; it is even more important in this unprecedented era of COVID-19, which is disproportionately affecting women, girls and the most marginalized populations.

The pressure that COVID-19 is placing on already strained health systems is disrupting life-saving sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health services to the point that death and disability is expected to vastly out number direct mortality and morbidity of the virus. Early modeling estimates as much as a 31% increase in maternal and neonatal deaths and stillbirths over the next year if maternal health services continue to decline, jeopardizing the journey to self-reliance that USAID, as the world’s largest donor of global health and humanitarian assistance, and others, have worked so hard to achieve. It is vital that women and girls have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services – including contraception, respectful maternity care, and other essential services – during the COVID-19 health emergency and beyond. With fear and confusion among women, communities and health care providers around best practices in relation to COVID-19, we must rely on evidence-based policies and practices to ensure that the progress toward quality, respectful, and dignified care are not reversed during, or after, this crisis period. 

Sexual and reproductive health must not be politicized during this critical time; doing so undermines USAID’s commendable achievements in maternal, newborn and child health and family planning. It also directly undercuts the sovereignty of nations to decide what to prioritize on their journey to self-reliance.