What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus.
Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.
The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
You should do the following to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19:
- wash your hands with soap and water often – for at least 20 seconds
- practice social distancing
- wash your hands as soon as you get home
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands
- not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
At this time, there are no specific vaccines or treatments for COVID-19. However, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments. Please visit the World Health Organization, which will continue to provide updated information as soon as clinical findings become available.
The impact so far
Filomena Ruggiero and Raquel Hurtado
Federación de Planificación Familiar de España (FPFE)
“The information available to FPFE indicates that sexual and reproductive health services which are urgent and can’t be postponed have continued as normally as possible."
Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA)
“In April 2020, the health service issued a revised Model of Care for Termination in Early Pregnancy in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency."
Dr Kunio Kitamura
Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA)
“ Our team was working hard before and after the start of the pandemic to provide SRH services to all those in need. Regardless of the situation, our services must continue to be provided."
Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (FPASL)
"Sri Lanka has recorded 596 positive cases and seven deaths so far, since its first case was recorded on 27 January. The country has been under an island-wide curfew since 17 March.”
Syria Family Planning Association (SFPA)
“Nine years of war have left Syria’s infrastructure - including healthcare systems - battered."
Lebanese Association for Family Health
“...hospitals and clinics are focusing on coronavirus treatment and the treatment of incomplete abortion may not be a priority.”
Moroccan Family Planning Association
“People are stressed and have many questions about whether the virus can be sexually transmitted.”
Palestinian Family Planning & Protection Association
“...it seemed pregnant women were afraid to seek services as people had been advised not to leave their homes if not necessary.”
Dr Susan Fan
Family Planning Association of Hong Kong
“We hope that we can serve all who need this service, but the demand is stretching our manpower and resources.”
Joel Akolly Eklou
Association Togolaise pour le Bien-Être Familial
“I am sure that contraceptive services, which are not categorised as emergency services, will be strongly affected.”
Asociacion Civil de Planificacion Familiar
“The impact is great, especially for women. Contraceptive care is diminished, women and young people cannot access contraceptive, gynecological or prenatal care services.”
Family Health Association Iran
“Since the outbreak we have been able to provide SRHR services via three static clinics, and one outreach team.”
Albania Center of Population and Development
“The virus outbreak is stretching an already strained health system and raises question over whether everyone can get equal access to treatment.”
Elshafie Mohamed Ali
Sudan Family Planning Association (SFPA)
“All sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services are expected to be dropped, as the Sudanese health system is already extremely exhausted”
“To answer the ongoing challenges during this pandemic we have additional online consultations”
Syed Kamal Shah
Rahnuma-Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP)
“Despite lockdown, our SDPs are functional and we are also providing counselling and urgent consultation through our free helplines. ”
Voices from the frontline
Malak Dirani, Midwife
Lebanese Association for Family Health (SALAMA)
"My message to healthcare workers across the world is that we are always here for people to secure their health rights. We are on the frontline, we were always the one who people trust! We are the nation's guiding light during this difficult time, so we can, with our efforts and power support patients, overcome this crisis, and save lives."
How will the coronavirus affect access to safe abortion?
Officially known as COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus has now been detected in 159 countries around the world and has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The illness has already caused thousands of deaths and will have a continued impact on global health systems and economies. One healthcare issue which will certainly be affected is access to safe abortion.
We already know that abortions happen every day, in every country of the world. Over half of all unintended pregnancies end in abortion, with WHO estimating that around 56 million abortions take place globally each year.
COVID-19 and the rise of gender-based violence
We are in the midst of a pandemic, and one way to slow down the spread of coronavirus is through implementing a lockdown and quarantine measures. This means confining yourself to your home with your family – which can also include your abuser.
Women and children are often the most vulnerable to violence and abuse in the home, and charities are already seeing a sharp rise in domestic violence reports. Pandemics often exacerbate existing inequalities for women and girls, as well as discrimination of other marginalized groups including LGBTQ+ people, people living with disabilities, older people, migrants, refugees and those in extreme poverty.
Contraception and COVID-19: Disrupted supply and access
Globally, the unmet need for contraception remains too high. It’s estimated that 214 million women and girls are not using modern contraception, despite wanting to avoid pregnancy. And this was before the COVID-19 pandemic, which is set to further derail access to contraception for women and girls around the world.
How do I practice self-care during a pandemic?
Much of the world has been jolted into a new way of life following the outbreak of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). With so much uncertainty, fear and anxiety going around, many of us are wondering what we can and should be doing to keep ourselves safe and healthy right now. With that in mind, we’ve put together a few recommendations which might help you out!
Amplifying the need for rapid progress towards Universal Health Coverage
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted health systems in unprecedented ways. Urgent needs to respond to the crisis and mitigate its impact have been met with a lack of coordinated efforts across many countries.
As health systems around the world are placed under considerable strains, essential health services are interrupted or displaced, and are rapidly becoming increasingly difficult to access by those who need them the most.
What you need to know about sex and COVID-19
COVID-19 is a serious disease and everyone should take the recommended preventive measures to minimize the risk of exposure and the spread of the virus. We all know this means cleaning hands frequently with soap and water, avoiding close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough, and staying home when you are ill.
But what about sex?
With many of us under lockdown and being made to stay at home, it’s not surprising that many of us are wondering what this means for our sex lives. To help, we’ve put together a handy guide of FAQ’s on sexual health and COVID-19 – which we will update as the situation evolves.
There is currently no evidence to indicate that COVID-19 can be found in semen or vaginal fluid. While this means that the virus is unlikely to be sexually transmissible, it does not mean that you are not at risk during sex. Having sex with others, including intimate touching and kissing, puts you at risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
Remember social distancing helps slow down the spread of the virus and in turn helps healthcare systems cope better.
The safest way to have sex, is sex with yourself! Masturbation will not spread COVID-19, especially if you wash your hands or any sex toys before and after with soap and water.
The next safest is sex with someone you live with. However, if you or your partner exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 or generally feel unwell, it’s advised that you avoid any physical contact and self-isolate for 14 days. This means no sex, no intimate touching, and certainly no kissing.
If you are wanting to have sex with people outside of your household, you may want to consider having sex with as few partners as possible. If you usually meet your sex partners online, maybe consider not meeting in-person and make use of digital platforms.
If you do have sex, it is recommended that you wash before sex and after sex. COVID-19 can live on surfaces for hours and so it’s very important you wash before you touch your partner - paying extra attention to your hands!
And remember sex means different things to different people and doesn’t always involve intercourse or touching. This could be a good opportunity to find new ways of enjoying one another or even yourself!
If you’re not planning a pregnancy - use contraception, including condoms.
If you are using short-acting contraceptive methods, such as the oral contraceptive pill, you should ideally have a supply for 30 days or more.
With strained healthcare systems, it might be harder to obtain your regular contraception such as an implant or IUD. Where possible try and make arrangements with your healthcare provider to ensure continuity of your preferred method of contraception.
If you want to reduce the risk of a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV, continue to use condoms.
If you are already using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV, you should ensure to have a supply for ideally 30 days or more.
For people living with HIV, the WHO is now recommending multi-month dispensing of three months or more of HIV medicines.
Unfortunately, in many countries abortion is not seen as an essential healthcare provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. This leaves hundreds of thousands of women and girls seeking safe abortion care over the next few months in life-threatening situations.
People deserve access to safe abortion care at all times but providing timely care is especially important during a crisis. We urge governments around the world to act now by removing all restrictions on telemedicine for medical abortion to ensure those in need have access to safe abortion care wherever they are.
What you need to know about pregnancy and COVID-19
Being pregnant is often filled with many emotions, but a pregnancy during the current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) could mean that fear, anxiety and uncertainty around your health and your unborn baby’s health has crept in. Understandably, you may have a lot of questions, so to help you answer some of these we've put together the following guidance on pregnancy and COVID-19.
Before we start, you should note that all pregnant women, including those with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infections, have the right to high quality care before, during and after childbirth. This information is not intended to meet your specific individual healthcare requirements and this information is not a clinical diagnostic service. If you are concerned about your health or healthcare requirements we strongly recommend that you speak to your clinician or other healthcare professional, as appropriate.
COVID-19 is a new virus and there is still a lot to learn about it. Research is currently underway on the impact of COVID-19 on pregnant women, so available data is limited, but currently there is no evidence to suggest pregnant people are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 or are at a higher risk of severe illness.
However, due to the changes in their body and immune system, it is known that pregnant people can be severely impacted by respiratory infections. It is therefore advised you take all the necessary precautions to protect yourself from COVID-19 and inform your healthcare provider if you experience possible symptoms such as a fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
It’s vital you take all recommended precautions recommended by your government and the World Health Organization to avoid COVID-19 infection. You can help protect yourself and others by:
We still do not know if a pregnant person with COVID-19 can pass it onto their fetus or newborn baby during pregnancy or delivery, but after birth a newborn is susceptible to person-to-person spread. To date, the virus has not been found in samples of amniotic fluid or breast milk.
Yes, it’s very important that you continue to receive antenatal and postnatal care. Contact your maternal healthcare provider and ask them for advice on how best to continue your routine appointments. Pregnant women may be advised to receive fewer face-to-face appointments with their midwife or doctor, with more contact by telephone or online. Let your healthcare provider know ahead of time if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been in contact with someone with the virus.
Yes, most hospitals will have COVID-19 protocols in place for you to safely give birth. If you are unsure of the procedures that are in place, contact the hospital you are planning to give birth at. If you were planning on having a home birth, contact the hospital to ensure this service is still available.
It is important to maintain an open dialogue with your main healthcare provider around available birthing options to see what is the most appropriate for you.
Many hospitals have also limited the number of people who can attend the birth, so check with your hospital on what their individual procedure is.
No. Caesareans are to only be performed when medically justified. The mode of birth should be discussed with you, taking into consideration preferences and any obstetric indications for intervention.
Yes, you can breastfeed your baby. To date, the virus has not been found in samples of breast milk. Breast milk provides protection against many illnesses and is the best source of nutrition for most infants. A discussion with your family and your maternity team on breastfeeding is advised on whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding.
When you or anyone else feeds your baby, the following precautions are recommended:
You can visit the World Health Organization to keep up-to-date on the latest information regarding pregnancy and COVID-19.
It’s also advised you keep in contact with your maternal health care provider and up-to-date with information and protocols of the hospital or maternity clinic you will be giving birth at..
A message from IPPF's
“The COVID-19 epidemic is one of the greatest challenges our Federation has faced. It is a global emergency affecting us all, without distinction. It is already clear that its impact will be unprecedented in every area of life; our ability as a Federation to deliver sexual and reproductive healthcare and our ability to defend and advance the rights of women and girls is already facing enormous strain.
At the same time, the work we all do will be more important than ever. The weight of this health emergency will fall disproportionately on the poor and underprivileged, as every crisis does. Those are the very people we all strive to serve.”