Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Health Reporter
ABOUT 1,8 million male condoms and 88 000 female condoms have been distributed countrywide since the Covid-19 outbreak which has affected access to sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) services for many women and girls.

According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Zimbabwe needs about 173 million condoms a year as these are at the heart of HIV prevention.

Condom use is one of the seven tried and tested HIV prevention methods recommended and so far, the use of condoms is the only method that provides dual protection from sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.

Its consistent and correct use can reduce the risk of HIV and some STIs by up to 99 percent.

In a statement to mark World Contraception Day commemorated globally on September 26 annually, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said it had to partner with the World Food Program (WFP) to distribute food and condoms to hard-to-reach areas.

Launched in 2007, the day was set aside to help raise awareness on contraception to enable young people and women of reproductive age make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health.

Despite having one of the highest contraception prevalence rates in Africa, many Zimbabwean women and girls were affected by Covid-19 which led to travel restrictions thereby making contraceptives inaccessible.

Zimbabwe’s Contraceptive Prevalence rate (CPR) which is the proportion of women aged 15-49 using family planning is 67 percent, an improvement from 59 percent in 2010.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care partnered with UNFPA and conducted a Rapid Assessment of Covid-19 Response in the context of Maternal and Sexual and Reproductive Health in Zimbabwe recently.

The assessment showed that the Covid-19 outbreak has affected women and young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, including access to family planning.

UNFPA country representative Dr Esther Muia said partnering with the WFP to distribute condoms has been a great innovation that has brought sexual and reproductive health services closer to communities.

“We have reprogrammed our work to facilitate and ensure women and girls have access to contraception during the pandemic. One of the ways we have done this is entering into a partnership with our UN counterpart, World Food Programme (WFP) together with the Ministry of Health and Child Care, where we are distributing male and female condoms and sharing sexual reproductive health information at the WFP’s food distribution points throughout the country,” said Dr Muia.

“To date 1,8 million male condoms and 88 000 female condoms have been moved from Natpharm to WFP for onward distribution to communities.”

According to UNFPA, WFP has over 1 500 food distribution points, covering 311 157 households in 60 districts countrywide.

“With contraceptives, women have fewer risky births, healthier pregnancies and safer deliveries and they tend to have lower risks of death and have improved overall health. These improvements produce economic benefits, greater investments in schooling, greater productivity, greater labour force participation and, eventually, increased income, savings, investment and asset accumulation,” said Dr Muia.

In addition to challenges related to the Covid-19 pandemic, UNFPA says there remains an unmet need among women and girls of reproductive age, especially in rural areas, where the majority of the population live. “Unmet need for family planning among married couples is 10 percent in urban areas and 11 percent in rural areas while unmet need for young people is 12.6 percent nationally. More efforts are required to address this unmet need,” she said.

WFP country director Mr Francesca Erdelmann said the two organisations will also continue supplying food to maternity waiting homes where pregnant women are housed towards their delivery date at a health facility for close monitoring.

“Food distribution points are deep in the communities and in close proximity and reach to the general population, making them easier and more convenient for communities to access essential and life-saving SRHR service,” said Mr Erdelmann.

Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council executive director Dr Munyaradzi Murwira urged all SRHR stakeholders to help women access the needed contraceptives during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in celebrating and commemorating the World Contraception Day. We call upon everyone and all the stakeholders to raise the awareness about contraception and to enable young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health,” said Dr Murwira. — @thamamoe