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COVID-19: What implications for sexual and reproductive health and rights globally?

On the 11 March 2020, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.1 Other coronavirus outbreaks which have occurred include the 2002–2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), first reported in 2012. Outbreaks like these can impact sexual and reproductive health and rights in various ways, at individual, systems and societal levels, and some of these implications are considered below.

MERS and SARS are known to cause adverse pregnancy outcomes including miscarriage, prematurity, fetal growth restriction and maternal death.2 Experience of COVID-19 in pregnancy is limited. In one reported case, the pregnant woman required mechanical ventilation and a caesarean section at 30 weeks gestation.3 Fetal distress and preterm delivery were reported in some other cases where infection occurred in the third trimester.4 Intrauterine virus transmission from mother to baby before delivery is a recognised risk.5,6 Pregnant women with COVID-19 respiratory illness should be treated with priority because of the risk of complications. So far, there is no evidence that pregnant women are more susceptible to COVID-19 than the general population,7 but pregnancy is nevertheless a risk factor for increased illness and death in outbreaks of influenza.8 Systematic screening of suspected infection during pregnancy with extended follow-up of confirmed cases has been called for,9 although the practicability of such measures – given often mild symptoms, lack of test kits and so on – is uncertain. Pregnant women face special challenges because of their responsibilities in the workforce, as caregivers of children and other family members, and their requirements for regular contact with maternity services and clinical settings where risk of exposure to infection is higher…

Hussein, J. (2020). COVID-19: What implications for sexual and reproductive health and rights globally?. Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters, 28:1.

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