When COVID-19 broke out in early 2020, the situation in Pakistan was like that of many other countries. Health resources were diverted toward emergency response, lockdowns were mandated, and health centers shut down routine, preventative care. These actions severely restricted women’s and girls’ ability to access critical reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) care, despite hundreds of thousands of women demanding these very services as part of the What Women Want campaign.
Recognizing the impending danger of these restrictions, advocates united partner organizations to craft a joint statement to protect these lifesaving services, citing women’s demands. The statement called on the national Ministry of Health (MOH) and provincial governments to designate RMNCH, family planning, and nutrition services as essential, integrate respectful maternity care in standards of health care delivery, and provide personal protective equipment to essential health workers.
Not only did the national MOH and provincial governments adopt the joint statement, they also took further action to expand access. With support from advocates, the government developed and launched a strategic framework to ensure essential RMNCH services were maintained and protected in current and future health emergencies. Provincial Healthcare Commissions in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab went on to incorporate respectful and dignified care in their service delivery guidelines for maternal and newborn health care during the pandemic.
Women’s voices had made it abundantly clear: accessible, quality, respectful maternal and reproductive health services are non-negotiable, especially in a pandemic—and decision-makers listened.