By Kenneth Matimaire
THE United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says the Covid-19 pandemic has put pressure on the provision of sexual reproductive health and gender-based violence programmes targeting women and girls.
Esther Muia, UNFPA Zimbabwe country representative, said although they had tried to innovate to continue providing services, the operational environment was now very difficult.
“Although progress has been made, even with the challenges presented we are still alive to the fact that Covid-19 remains a huge challenge to our programming and to women and girls and we still have much more work to do,” Muia said.
“We must continue to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health, leaving no one behind.
“We call on all our partners to continue supporting and believing in our mandate.”
The UNFPA in Zimbabwe partnered with the World Food Programme to utilise its food distribution points and logistics to deliver gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual reproductive health information and services.
Through this network, male and female condoms were distributed as well as sexual reproductive health information which was shared with communities during food distribution programmes.
Zimbabwe witnessed an upsurge in gender-based violence during the Covid-19 lockdowns, a 40 percent increase compared to the pre-lockdown period, according to the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs (UNOCHA).
UNOCHA indicated that the national GBV Hotline (Musasa), recorded 6,832 GBV calls from the beginning of the lockdown on March 30 until the end of December last year.
About 94 percent of the calls were from women.
April had the highest number of calls at 1,312, followed by 915 in May and 779 in June.
A total of 753 were recorded in July, while August had 766 cases, September (629), October (546), November (567), and 565 calls in December.
To ensure access to information on prevention of GBV and access to services, UNFPA supported GBV risk mitigation initiatives such as provision of psychosocial support to women and girls through safe spaces.
GBV service delivery was scaled up through mobile one-stop-centres in remote areas while shuttle services were also availed in hotspots to support the provision of GBV services to health facilities at any time.
UNFPA said the pandemic had resulted in the reallocation of resources towards the Covid-19 response.
“The crisis has caused many overstretched health systems to scale back sexual and reproductive health services, which are often not deemed essential,” UNFPA executive director, Natalia Kanem said.
“While these services are a human right, they have been shunted aside in favour of more “pressing” concerns.
“Amid economic pressures and budget cuts, there is a real risk that some countries may fail to restore these services.”
Kanem warned that any further delays in extending funding to the UN agency will curtail the health and well-being of women and girls.
Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, European Union, Japan, China and the World Bank, are some of the key partners supporting UNFPA in Zimbabwe.