Social distancing measures implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19 had widespread impacts on virtually all aspects of life – the delivery of health services was not excepted. Alive & Thrive supported research in India and Bangladesh to evaluate the impacts of measures implemented to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In India, a recently completed study including a sample of more than 500 women with children under the age of two provided the opportunity to conduct a follow-up phone survey to assess effects of the pandemic on health services and food security. COVID-19 affected the provision and use of health services despite adaptive efforts, and significantly and negatively impacted household food security. The latter, in turn, had implications for child feeding practices and coping strategies.
- Provision of protective equipment
- Measures that allow for social distancing and appropriate hygiene during service provision
- Measures to address diminished demand for services and the reality of providers’ role in providing essential services while also responding to emergencies
- Targeted social protection strategies and safety nets to improve household food security during and after COVID-19
In Bangladesh, an urban nutrition baseline survey, completed in March 2020 immediately before the COVID-19 lockdown, allowed a unique opportunity to contact the recently surveyed sample via phone to conduct a follow up survey and complete a longitudinal analysis of pre- and post-COVID provision and utilization of services and food insecurity, including adaptations and possible solutions to best respond to COVID-19 and other emergencies.
Study findings show that the provision of routine antenatal care services had a modest reduction during the lockdown, anthropometric measurements reduced substantially for pregnant women and for children. Child immunizations fell and counselling on child feeding fell, as well. By September 2020, most services resumed, though provision was still markedly below pre-pandemic levels. Despite key adaptations for service provision that included using phones for counselling and coordinating to arrange immunization visits, drop-offs in service utilization during the lockdown were also large and remained low through September. Household food insecurity increased substantially during COVID-19.
Further investments are needed to improve training and support for providers, ensure availability of personal protective equipment, and continue to increase availability and demand for routine maternal and child health services. Findings from both studies will be disseminated in early 2021 and through peer-reviewed manuscripts, currently in progress.