GPHC must restart family planning services ASAP

Dear Editor,
I am writing this letter to remind the management and directors of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) about the crucial importance of sexual and reproductive healthcare.
Weeks ago, in the initial phases of the coronavirus pandemic response, a decision was made to stop providing family planning services at GPHC. While one appreciates the caution being exercised in this challenging time, the fact is that family planning is an essential health service, and access to contraceptives plays a crucial role in women’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Numerous research studies have shown that access to contraception improves women’s lives in innumerable ways: child spacing ensures healthier pregnancies; there are fewer childbirth complications for both mother and infant; and there are less unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions; while simultaneously, female empowerment is boosted by allowing women the opportunity to fulfill their educational potential and become active participants in the workforce.
Access to contraception and family planning services has also been shown to greatly improve the quality of life of women/girls living in poverty and experiencing abuse and violence — something which remains epidemic in Guyana. When women and girls have bodily autonomy – that is, control of their reproductive choices and the ability to make independent decisions about if, when, and how many children to bear — their mental health also improves and there is less stress, depression, suicidal ideation, etc.
For all these reasons, it is essential that women and girls of reproductive age have consistent and affordable access to sexual and reproductive health services. This is even more important in this time of the coronavirus pandemic, when many women’s lives have gotten even more difficult than usual, with many experiencing significant loss of income, more interpersonal violence, increased caregiving challenges, and additional stresses. The last thing most women need now is to worry about how and where to obtain contraception and family-planning services.
It is not enough to simply refer persons to community health centres; those who were accessing these services at GPHC have had their reasons for choosing that location over others, and it’s important that those decisions be honoured.
Sadly, the public health system of Guyana has long failed to meet all the needs of Guyanese women and girls. One glaring failure is the lack of safe abortion services at most public health facilities nationwide. The fact that this essential reproductive health service remains unavailable in eight of the ten regions of Guyana twenty-five years after abortion was legalised speaks volumes about the low level of respect for women’s health, lives, and wellbeing among those with the authority to effect systemic change. The irony, however, is that access to contraception and family planning services can help reduce the demand for abortions. It is therefore imperative that GPHC resumes provision of these key services immediately.
It is clear that the coronavirus will be with us for the foreseeable future, and our task at this point in time is to figure out how to navigate this new normal. Months into the pandemic, we now have a much better understanding of how to deal with the virus, and there is no reason why the family planning clinic at GPHC cannot be re-opened as long as proper sanitation and physical distancing measures are put in place.
Women and girls are both the foundation of a healthy society, and the most vulnerable, and it is important that Guyanese women and girls are able to obtain the information and tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves in terms of their sexual and reproductive well-being. With or without the coronavirus, this must be a priority for those who care about creating a better Guyana.

Sherlina Nageer,