Tunisian’s ongoing battle against COVID-19 has produced a separate medical casualty: access to reproductive services for Tunisian women.
A recent study conducted by the Tawhida Ben Cheikh Group and the Tunisian Association of Midwivery found that 10 percent of Tunisian women giving birth did so at home during lockdown, as opposed to the normal rate of 0.1 percent. The reasons included a fear of infection, no means of transport, and a lack of access to personal protective equipment because most of it had been reserved for use by medical personnel.
Some expressed concern that more politically conservative streams of Tunisia’s government are using the pandemic to curtail reproductive rights by closing family planning centers and limiting pre- and postnatal consultations, abortion, and contraceptive services during the lockdown. This has led to an increase in clandestine abortions.
Tunisia was the first African country to implement a national family planning program
Fortunately, Tunisia’s healthcare system is relatively robust and the country has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates of the Maghreb. In 1963, seven years after gaining independence from France, Tunisia became the first African country to implement a national family planning program, after revoking colonial laws restricting abortions and the sale of contraceptives.
In response to a petition initiated by the Tawhida Ben Cheikh Group urging the authorities to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services, the Ministry of Health included access to contraception and abortion in a list, published on April 24, of essential healthcare services during the COVID-19 lockdown period.