Encoy Kebede, 21, of the Bilechta Youth Club shares her experience of how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her community. The Bilechta (Bilichta) Youth Club is located in Aleltu, Oromia region, 55 km north of Addis Ababa.
How are you feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic?
At some points at the beginning of all this, it felt like everything around me posed a potential threat. I felt that the virus was all around me, including on the chair I sit on, in the bed I sleep in and in the shoes I wear. This feeling has slowly changed. I realised that being careful is more important during COVID-19 than being fearful. The dilemma for many is that staying at home all day long increases the risk of being sexually assaulted by a relative, and going out increases the risk of being infected with COVID-19.
Can you still access services, supplies and information about sexual and reproductive health (SRH)?
The first few weeks of the pandemic, it wasn’t that easy to access to SRH services and supplies. Even if the need was there, COVID-19 was everyone’s primary health concern, so people were keeping away from health facilities as much as possible. A while later, I started to receive more information about COVID-19 (courtesy of DSW) and learned about the impact on SRH services. The more information I had, the more empowered I was in terms of how I can perceive things and move forward while the pandemic is still an active threat.
How do you explain the rise in pregnancies during this time and the role of accessing services (contraceptives and family planning)?
I am not pregnant and do not intend to become pregnant in the near future. But this can be explained by understanding that, during COVID-19, people aren’t as equipped to prevent unintended pregnancies as they are in different circumstances. When we are strictly staying put at home, accessing contraceptives, even the most common commodity like condoms, is much more difficult. Some people with whom we had early contact have since been left to deal with a possible precarious condition, having inadvertently become pregnant in the time of COVID-19. It was a tough call as everyone had to embrace the new reality, face the pandemic and think about how to contain or prevent community spread. Unintended pregnancy was no longer a priority as most health care providers were focussing on nothing other than treating and caring for COVID-19 patients.
What has changed since the beginning of the pandemic?
On a personal level, I have now learned how to adapt to the new situation. I take maximum care to maintain the safety of myself and others first. My peers and I use our youth club as a platform to spread SRH information and link those in need to referral services. Most health facilities provide full-time SRH service provision. With all the necessary care being taken, which is a huge change in behaviour, people are beginning to come to the health centres to access SRH services and supplies again. This change will only be successful as long as strict measures for wearing face masks is consistently enforced. I think that there is also a change in my feelings – I crave some forms of socialisation that I would have taken for granted in pre-COVID-19 time.
What worries you the most during this time?
I am most worried about when this pandemic will be over and, if it does subside, will it ever resurface with more severe strains? I am also worried about how the school system functions. I am missing out on most things that normally keep me busy, so I exhaust myself worrying when I would otherwise be productive.
How do you see your future?
At the moment, I would like to see the future free from a pandemic such as the one we are bound to live with now. After the pandemic, I will not take every moment in which I could be of some help to others for granted.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having dire effects on reproductive, maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health in Africa. The disruption of SRH services is putting pregnant women and their families at risk. More unsafe births, less access to contraceptives and increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases have long-term impacts on women, their families and society. Learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on SRHR on our dedicated COVID page here.
Featured image by Brian Otieno.