Pandemic Problems: Sexual and Reproductive Health Research During Lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic has unified the world like never before. For the first time in generations, humans are experiencing isolation simultaneously. We still know very little about the disease and how it affects us medically, our healthcare systems and, more broadly, the world economy. Medical systems across the globe have been forced to restructure their priorities due to the onslaught of COVID-19 patients in healthcare facilities.

Other fields of health, including mental health, have taken a backseat to coronavirus care. To investigate this apparent neglect, researchers across the public health field have shifted their focus to these concerns. A study from Psychiatry Research investigated the effects of lockdown isolation on the mental health of adolescents and children. Researchers Found that there is a pressing need for accessible mental health care services to educate the aforementioned populations on coping mechanisms and adaptability exercises. Answers to vital questions on what we need as humans in the most dire of circumstances can be turned into actionable solutions by creating public health policy or providing healthcare professionals with treatment plans for pressing health concerns. 

Over 35 other academic institutions, including UNC-Chapel Hill, have collaborated to understand the effects of lockdown practices on sexual and reproductive health in the International Sexual Health and Reproductive Health (I-SHARE) Survey. The survey addresses issues of contraceptive use, access to reproductive healthcare, sexual/gender-based violence and STI prevalence. The primary focus of I-SHARE is to understand how sexual and reproductive health has changed in low, mid and high-income countries during the COVID-19 lockdown. But conducting a worldwide online survey in the midst of a pandemic has had its fair share of challenges.

“COVID-19 has turned many things upside down. For example, population-representative surveys are the gold standard for understanding sexual health, behaviors, and outcomes. Yet COVID-19 lockdowns preclude this type of rigorous inquiry, and we still need to have some data on sexual behaviors during this time,” said Dr. Joe Tucker, assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine and coordinator of the I-SHARE project.

Studies like I-SHARE are vital to get a better understanding of how a restructure of our healthcare system due to COVID-19 has affected other aspects of our health. Much about the coronavirus and the pandemic in general is still largely unknown, but the dedication of scientists like those working on I-SHARE gives me hope that we will overcome this difficult time. 

The inherent isolation of this pandemic has largely exacerbated many existing issues in our healthcare systems and society in general. Post-pandemic, the information ascertained from large scale public health surveys like I-SHARE can inform on what are society’s most pressing health needs. I-SHARE specifically will provide information that will shape how nations address sexual and reproductive health for generations to come. Dr. Tucker said it best: “The I-SHARE project will help to fill this gap and inform local policies related to sexual health.” 

I-SHARE is yet to publish the findings of their data collection because many countries are still actively conducting the survey in their host nation, which includes the United States. You can be an active part of shaping COVID-19 research and help address sexual health policy in your own community by taking the I-SHARE survey. 

Click here to take the United States I-SHARE survey.

Click here to access a list of country-specific live surveys.

 

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