Publication Date: 30/04/2020
The impacts – direct and indirect – of public health emergencies fall disproportionally on the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in society. Interconnected social, economic, and political factors pose complex challenges for the ECSA region’s ability to respond to COVID-19. The region already faces significant health challenges that would exacerbate the severity of COVID-19, such as high levels of malnutrition, malaria, anemia, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. Access to healthcare in the region is the lowest in the world, thus there is limited capacity to absorb the pandemic1. Gender-based inequality is extensive in the region. Women are at a higher risk for exposure to infection due to the fact that they are often the primary caregivers in the family and constitute 70% of frontline healthcare responders.2 Most women already face limited access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services, and the region struggles with high levels of maternal mortality. For example, mother mortality rates recorded in South Sudan were 1150 per 100 000 live births3. COVID-19 will only increase women’s safety risks and care burdens as health services become stretched and resources shift to COVID-19 responses.
Women and girls are at increased risk of violence during the COVID-19 period. Current rates of violence against women and girls combined with the prevalence of harmful traditional practices leads to increased vulnerability. Income loss and limited mobility, compounded with existing gender role expectations, may contribute to increases in intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence.