The Covid-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting women’s health.
Between stalled screening services, excessive backlogs, and hindered access to essential items like menstrual products and contraception, it’s no surprise that women’s health has been suffering exponentially during the pandemic – in Ireland and beyond.
A recent survey as reported by The Journal.ie shows that just one in 10 women invited to their CervicalCheck smear during the pandemic made appointments.
Similarly, over 200,000 first-time patients in Ireland had their appointments cancelled last year due to the pandemic. As reported by the Irish Examiner this week, these cancellations have caused waiting lists to spiral out of control, inevitably leading to increased waiting times for new appointments and delayed procedures for more vulnerable patients.
This sharp reduction in appointments is dismaying but it is not surprising. At the beginning of the first lockdown, the Irish government suspended all CervicalCheck, BreastCheck, and BowelCheck screenings indefinitely.
Along with non-essential retailers and restaurants, very necessary screening programmes were halted leaving many people who had booked appointments at the beginning of last summer in limbo. Screening services were eventually resumed over a staggered period but not before much criticism from many healthcare groups, who criticised the government’s delayed response to recommencing suspensions.
But it’s not just health screenings that the pandemic is affecting. Elsewhere it seems like worldwide lockdowns are also affecting women’s reproductive choices too.
A 2020 report from the Guttmacher Institute shows that fewer women in the US are interested in having children, or having as many children, since the beginning of the pandemic.
According to the study, one third of women said they want to delay having children or that they want fewer children overall. The same amount added that they are now taking extra precautions with contraception to ensure they do not become pregnant.
This research pointed to concerns around finance and employment as reasons behind the shift, but here in Ireland any similar delays could easily be attributed to the country’s strict and, as many have suggested, unnecessary maternity hospital restrictions.
Already since the beginning of the pandemic have there been several calls for maternity hospitals to ease their restrictions, which have only recently seen partners allowed to attend 20 week scans. Since the latest bout of restrictions in 2021, however, some hospitals have banned partners from even attending those.
As well as this, the pandemic has of course made it more difficult for women to access basic health necessities such as period products and contraception.
A 2020 survey showed that women and girls in developing countries are experiencing restricted access to menstrual products since the coronavirus outbreak began due to interrupted supply chains and product shortages.
Similarly, women and girls in Ireland have also encountered issues finding information or people to discuss their periods with, with many stating they do not want to burden their GP with an appointment.
Contraception has too proven to be a point of concern for many women. In the US, many have reported issues accessing prescriptive contraceptives like the pill due to forced or delayed appointments and cancellations. Unsurprisingly, it’s women of colour who are suffering the most with 38% of black women and 45% of Hispanic women reporting problems accessing health care, compared to 29% of white women.
Just this month, Lloyd’s Pharmacy customers in Ireland were informed that they would no longer be able to avail of the brand’s Online Doctor service due to Brexit challenges. One of the more popular online prescription services in the country, many women who relied on Lloyd’s for their contraceptive pill renewal will now need to seek help elsewhere.
The after-affects of the Covid-19 pandemic will stretch far beyond this article and the issues that the world is already keenly aware of.
Of course men’s health issues have also no doubt been significantly affected by the pandemic, but women’s healthcare has a tendency to suffer at the best of times. And now as we live through the worst of them, it’s going to be a long time before the women of the world recover – and not just from coronavirus.