|Leaders in the healthcare industry gathered to empower women to take care of their health amidst COVID-19|
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of women have lost the ability to plan for their families and protect their health, deepening existing gender inequalities and impacting long-term socioeconomic sustainability. Recognising the urgent need for more dedicated work to secure continuity of access to healthcare, Bayer convened a virtual roundtable in collaboration with key organisations from across the region.
The virtual roundtable titled “#TakeControl: Shaping Digital Health for Women in the COVID Decade” held on September 24 on the occasion of World Contraception Day. The event saw the participation of healthcare professionals, policymakers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), telehealth providers, industry associations, and digital influencers in the Asia-Pacific.
Data from International Planned Parenthood states that 5,633 static and mobile clinics, as well as community-based care services in 64 countries had been closed by April 2020 due to the outbreak. Meanwhile, data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) reveals that nearly 12 million women lost access to contraception due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, leading to 1.4 million unintended pregnancies.
"We have observed three key delays that were further aggravated by the outbreak, causing a rise in unplanned pregnancies: delays in getting family planning information to women, delays in women being able to physically access medical facilities, physicians, and medication due to movement restrictions, and delays in getting health services up and running again," shared Dr. Jameel Zamir, director of Programmes and Performance, East Southeast Asia and Oceania Region, Malaysia, International Planned Parenthood Federation.
"On the ground, I've seen supply chain problems, overwhelmed health facilities, and women fearful of seeking healthcare, and when access to family planning is disrupted, entire families struggle to cope," he noted.
With movement restrictions driving many women online for more information on healthcare and family planning, barriers such as misconceptions, and cultural and social stigma, also present challenges within these topics.
"A lot of women in the Philippines are going online now, and I've seen a shift in attitude and demand for more doctors to also be online. What's sad is that many women are online, but not the doctors," said Dr. Michelle Dado, OBGYN & Digital Thought Leader, president of Quezon City Medical Society District IV (Philippines).
She added that education is the only way to encourage healthcare professionals to become more digitally savvy and translate what they do in a face-to-face consultation onto an online platform. This will help to break the endless cycle of misinformation online that may in turn lead to many young women making misinformed contraceptive choices.
Along with flourishing online platforms, the pandemic has also accelerated healthcare digitisation on an unprecedented scale. Technology has been a critical enabler in the recovery and resilience of today's health systems to expand women's access to healthcare and family planning solutions.
"Our diverse region has one of the highest unmet needs for contraception and the lowest contraception prevalence rate, and these statistics are concerning. The good news is we are the fastest-growing region digitally, and digital platforms have the potential to bring three key elements to empower women: pre- and post-contraceptive support, access to information and contraceptives, and privacy," said Jack Shen Lim, honorary treasurer, Malaysian Pharmacists Society.
"With everything on one platform where people can access in the comfort and privacy of their home, we can intensively increase women's access to healthcare, family planning and contraception, and reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies," he noted.
Therefore, 16 representatives from local government, NGOs, telehealth providers and industry associations, including healthcare professionals and digital influencers, jointly pledged their commitment to continue empowering women to make informed choices about family planning and health. They also called for wider public support to join in the pledge and give voice to women's health needs and empowerment.
|Dr.Shivani Kapur, head of Medical Affairs, Pharmaceuticals Division Asia Pacific, Bayer|
"Safeguarding women's health and preserving the progress made on access to contraception remain our top priority amidst COVID-19. Multi-stakeholder collaboration and digital innovation are critical in supporting family planning with undisrupted access to contraceptives, as well as increasing knowledge on women's health, family planning, and contraception," said Dr. Shivani Kapur, head of Medical Affairs, Pharmaceuticals Division Asia-Pacific, Bayer.
"Our long-standing commitment to women's health drives us to shape a better future – by empowering women to make informed decisions about their health and family planning, and advancing an innovative portfolio of women's health treatments, to serve women with the right solutions, at the right time, and on the right platforms," she stated.
Across the Asia-Pacific, Bayer has been collaborating with governments and organisations to introduce initiatives that promote greater contraception awareness and education. This includes partnerships with BKKBN in Indonesia, POPCOM in the Philippines, the Department of Health's Bureau of Reproductive Health in Thailand, and the Family Planning and Women's Union (FPWU) and the Government Office of Family Planning (GOPFP) in Vietnam.
To achieve its "Health for all, Hunger for none" vision, Bayer will continue to invest in multi-stakeholder aid programmes, with the ultimate goal of providing 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries with access to modern contraception methods by 2030.
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