Sexual and reproductive health services during outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics in sub-Saharan Africa: A literature scoping review


BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic could worsen adolescent sexual and reproductive health (ASRH). We sought evidence on the indirect impacts of previous infectious disease epidemics and the current COVID-19 pandemic on the uptake of ASRH in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to design relevant digital solutions. METHODS: We undertook a literature scoping review to synthesize evidence on the indirect impacts of COVID-19 on ASRH in SSA per the Arksey and O’Malley framework and PRISMA reporting guidelines. We conducted the search on PubMed, Embase, Google Scholar, and ResearchGate in June and November 2020. We included all peer-reviewed, English-language primary studies on the indirect impacts of infectious disease epidemics on the uptake of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in SSA. RESULTS: We included 21 of 42 identified studies. Sixteen studies (76.2%) quantitatively assessed utilization and access to SRH during epidemics. Five studies (2 [9.6%] qualitative and 3 [14.3%] mixed methods) explored factors affecting SRH services. All studies focused on adult populations, most often on labor and delivery (n = 13 [61.9%]) and family planning (n = 8 [38.1%]) outcomes. Although we sought out to assess all outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics, the only relevant studies took place during the West African Ebola pandemic (n = 17 [80.9%]) and COVID-19 pandemic (n = 4 [19.0%]). One study (4.8%) highlighted adolescent-specific outcomes and condom use. Most studies found declined access to and utilization of facility delivery, antenatal care, family planning, and HIV care. One study noted an increase in adolescent pregnancies. However, other studies noted similar, or even increasing trends in access to and utilization of other SRH services (family planning visits; HIV diagnosis; ART initiation) during epidemics. Barriers to SRH uptake included factors such as a reduced ability to pay for care due to lost income, travel restrictions, and fear of infection. Supply-side barriers included lack of open facilities, workers, commodities, and services. Community-based peer delivery systems, telemedicine, and transport services improved SRH uptake. CONCLUSION: Access to SRH services during epidemics among adolescents and young people in SSA is understudied. We found that no studies focused on SRH outcomes of abortion, emergency contraception, sexually transmitted infections, or cervical cancer. To improve access to and utilization of SRH during pandemics, we recommend the following; in terms of research, key standardized SRH indicators should be included in routine data collection, routine data should be disaggregated by age, gender, and geography to understand gaps in ASRH service delivery, and additional rigorous epidemiological and social-behavioral studies should be conducted. On implementation, community-based peer delivery systems and telemedicine, internet-based, and other technological solutions may better reach adolescent and young people in SSA.


Ng'andu M, Mesic A, Pry J, Mwamba C, Roff F, Chipungu J, Azgad Y, Sharma A




  • Epidemiology and Determinants of Health
    • Determinants of Health
  • Determinants of Health
    • Health services
  • Population(s)
    • General HIV- population
  • Co-infections
    • Other
  • Health Systems
    • Delivery arrangements


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