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Brook’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Lisa Hallgarten, highlights some key steps you can take to protect your sexual and reproductive health during COVID-19, as well as Brook’s key asks for the Government to avert a sexual health crisis.
Staying at home during a lockdown sounds like the safest kind of sex – in theory.
In reality, many people will be cooped up with partners for extended periods of time. They’ll likely be bored, anxious, missing the gym and maybe having as much or more sex than usual. With GP surgeries being inundated and sexual health clinics operating as appointment-only to reduce overcrowded waiting rooms, accessing contraception could be as easy as tracking down pasta in your local supermarket.
Brook expects this to have a serious impact on STI and unintended pregnancy rates, at a time when STI testing/treatment and abortion services are not easily accessible.
It’s equally important to remember that safe sex isn’t just about being STI and pregnancy-free. In the conditions created by lockdown, it is hugely concerning that people of all ages may be trapped in dangerous domestic situations with violent, abusive or coercive family members or partners. What’s more, many charities and support services are all struggling to cope with reduced staffing and remote working.
There are some simple measures that everyone can take right now, and encourage others to do, to address a shortfall in sexual and reproductive health services.
Buying condoms and emergency contraception is an expensive business so it’s not a solution for everyone, and what if it’s too late for emergency contraception?
Nearly 4,000 abortions take place in England and Wales each week. So, just a fortnight’s self-isolation and inaccessibility of abortion provision could mean up to 8,000 people continuing pregnancies that they would otherwise end.
The government needs to do more to protect sexual and reproductive health and rights during these unprecedented times.
Brook believes that:
This final point would provide a clinically safe and reliable solution, involving a phone or live chat conversation with a healthcare professional to establish gestation, health, treatment options and – if required – prescribing and sending the medication. It would prevent unnecessary travel and minimise health professionals’ need for in-person contact with dozens of people a week. Those needing hospital care may struggle to get help as hospitals close their doors to ‘non-urgent’ cases and suspend elective procedures, but telemedicine for those who can benefit would be a great start.
We are now living through a public health emergency, and clearly there are competing priorities. But access to sexual health care and services is essential and cannot be sidelined. As individuals, we have a responsibility to take extra care and minimise risks that would require us to leave the house for treatment and put additional strain on already overwhelmed healthcare services. Equally, the Government must acknowledge that ignoring sexual and reproductive health and rights could lead to a longer-lasting crisis with wide-reaching impact.
For more info on Brook services at this time: https://www.brook.org.uk/covid-19-response/
Useful Brook pages:https://www.brook.org.uk/topics/contraception/https://www.brook.org.uk/topics/stis/
Domestic violence / abuse support:https://www.refuge.org.uk/https://mensadviceline.org.uk/https://www.womensaid.org.uk/
If you are worried about a young person, or if you are a young person:https://www.childline.org.uk/https://www.nspcc.org.uk/
Further information / evidence on taking abortion pills at home:https://www.bmj.com/company/newsroom/allow-women-in-england-to-take-second-abortion-pill-at-home-healthcare-leaders-urge/https://www.womenonweb.org/
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