COVID-19 has changed almost every aspect of daily life and women’s healthcare has not been immune to the struggle of navigating the new normal when it comes to health issues unique to women. Among these, women’s reproductive, sexual, and mental health have been the areas most impacted by the pandemic.
As COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, healthcare centers nationwide were forced to restrict all non-emergent services rendered. This affected women’s ability to obtain contraception counseling, testing for sexually transmitted infections, and screenings performed during well-woman visits such as Pap testing and yearly breast exams. Mandated stay-at-home orders across every state left couples spending more time together and the need for reliable contraception became increasingly important. Many women were forced to order oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) through third party companies online if a healthcare provider was not offering services at that time. While prescriptions for certain contraception methods like OCPs, the patch, and vaginal ring can be sent to a pharmacy via phone call, fax, or email, some methods of contraception can only be given in person by a licensed provider such as the shot, implant, and the intrauterine device (IUD), making access to long-acting reversible contraception especially challenging.
The pandemic has not only affected women seeking to prevent pregnancy, but it has affected those desiring to conceive as well. Many fertility centers have been forced to pause services, halting elective fertility treatments and procedures. With the loss of more than 20 million jobs nationwide, many women have cited financial reasons and concerns about access to prenatal care as reasons for delaying plans to have children. While prenatal visits have remained essential, support persons are not currently allowed in clinics for visits or ultrasounds, which is particularly anxiety-provoking for many women. Hospitals and birthing centers have also mandated only one support person allowed with a patient during labor and delivery as well as during the patient’s entire hospital stay.
Perhaps the most concerning statistic arising amongst women as a result of COVID-19 is the rising rate of intimate partner violence (IPV) in the United States as well as around the world. As more couples and families are forced to stay home due to schools and work places shutting down, the stressors of a pandemic such as isolation from extended family and friends, financial strain, and fear of contracting the virus have led to an increased risk of domestic violence. Though the effects of COVID-19 are unlikely to cause a non-violent person to become violent, someone with a history of abusive behavior may become more violent as a result of these stressors. Additionally, stay-at-home orders make it more difficult for women in abusive relationships to reach out to crisis hotlines and help centers and/or plan an escape from the abuser due to lack of privacy and money.
Though the long term effects of COVID-19 on women’s reproductive, sexual, and mental health remain to be known, healthcare providers must be diligent in meeting needs of women across the lifespan.
About the Author:
Lauren Grude, MSN, WHNP-BC
Lauren has been an APPAA contributor since 2020. Since graduating in 2015, Lauren has found a special niche in working with substance-addicted pregnant women and addiction and women’s health.