More than 214,000 extra babies could be born in the Philippines next year as strict coronavirus lockdowns have left hundreds of thousands unable to access family planning services.
It is thought that around 10 per cent of the unplanned pregnancies will be among teenagers aged 15-19, according to the country's Commission on Population and Development (Popcom).
The spike in births - expected to be the highest in two decades - has been caused by restrictions on movement preventing access to clinics, and the lack of availability of contraceptives, like condoms, in the wake of the pandemic.
Nearly 3.6m women aged between 15 and 49 years old have had an “unmet need for family planning” in the outbreak, Popcom said, almost a fifth more than usual. ?
“We foresee that because of the restrictions of movement as well as the reduction of access of women and men to family planning supplies, there will be at least one pregnancy for every three women with an unmet need for family planning,” said the executive director of Popcom, Juan Antonio Perez III.
“These are just some of the adverse impacts of the community quarantine to the welfare of our families, which further aggravates the situation of the ongoing health crisis.”
The Philippines has had one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns, with President Rodrigo Duterte threatening to “shoot down” any violators. It was the third country to impose restrictions in March, and some areas remain under quarantine now, including the capital, Manila.
There have been 36,000 coronavirus cases and around 1,200 deaths. However, the restrictions have had a grave impact on the country's economy and other services, including its already underfunded health system. ?
Mr Perez urged all Filipinos to “do their very best” to avoid becoming part of the “staggering” statistics, stressing that helplines and clinics were open and home-delivery supplies of three month-supplies of the contraceptive pill and condoms were available.
Popcom expects almost 1.9 million babies to be born in total in the Philippines next year - the highest rate since 2000 - compared to just less than 1.7million in 2018. ?
“This should sound the alarm for everyone that as the pandemic rages on, family planning should still be top-of-mind for everyone,” Mr Perez said.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which, along with the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), put together the projections, has warned that the global impact on birth rates and women's health of coronavirus could be “calamitous”.
It has predicted that 47 million women across the world in lower and middle-income countries will lose access to contraception, leading to 7 million unplanned pregnancies in the coming months.
While some have joked about lockdown leaving couples at home with little else to do, particularly in wealthier countries, the projections for?many places?also demonstrate rising health inequalities and barriers to access, the risks of school closures for teenage girls, and the impact of the well-documented rise in domestic abuse under lockdown.
UNFPA executive director Dr Natalia Kanem said: “The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health.”