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South African women cry over shortage of contraceptives

FILE- Women wait to be checked at the maternity unit of the Phebe Hospital in Bong   -  
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South Africa

South Africa is facing a shortage of birth control stock at public health facilities. A 2022 independent study by the Ritshidze project, a community-led clinic monitoring organization, indicates that stock-outs of contraceptives represented 40% of all medicine stock-outs reported.

Rural Doctors Association of South Africa says this poses a huge risk for unplanned pregnancy.

Dr. Indira Govender, Rural Doctors Association of South Africa Member said information on depleted birth control stocks was sourced from 400 primary health care facilities in South Africa.

“Our project, The Stop Stockout, has been receiving reports of these contraceptive stock-outs particularly the Depo injection, the hormonal injection given to women every two to three months. The implications of this are that the power of choice is gone. We have some data from 2017 that shows that the contract with the supplier was terminated and that has resulted in disruptions. However, thereafter there has not been any communication from the Department of Health to explain what the reason is for this, “ explains Govender

Healthcare workers in public health institutions have been forced to give patients alternative birth control. However, health rights experts say this is not a sustainable solution due to side effects like hormonal changes.

“Many healthcare workers when there was a shortage of contraceptives would recommend an alternative method which of course is not an unreasonable response from a healthcare worker who wants to do the best for their patient. We know that women who cannot get access to contraceptives may need to negotiate condom usage and we know that South Africa has high rates of gender-based violence so those negotiations might be difficult, ” said Claire Waterhouse, Doctors Without Borders Regional Advocacy Coordinator

Ordinary South Africans believe failure to meet birth control stocks threatens the reproductive health of women and families.

Johannesburg-based Thando Cuba and Amanda Magazi believe the Department of Health should focus its energy on ensuring there are sufficient stocks throughout the country’s public health care facilities.

“ This shortage affects me as well because it means that my partner and I could have an unwanted pregnancy. In reality, without access to free family planning, it will cost us financially if we now will need to go buy from the chemist. We can’t afford that,” said Cuba

“ The birth control stock shortage is not good at all because girls these days fall pregnant at a young age. You find that these young girls are still at school. The birth control shortage will also cause these young girls to drop out of school,” explains Magazi

In response to questions over the shortage of birth control, South Africa’s department of health issued an official statement saying they are not aware of any supply constraints and that the supply plan indicates that suppliers have sufficient stock to meet the demand.

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