Ishika Chaudhary, Tarishi Chaturvedi, IMPRI Team

The second wave of COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities to a great extent affecting every sector of life deeply. To understand the effect of COVID-19 on women, Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a panel discussion on “Gendered Impact of the Catastrophic Second Wave of COVID-19 Pandemic: Way Forward towards Combating the Third Wave in India” on June 15, 2021.

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Public Health Response

Ms Renu Khanna, Trustee SAHAJ, Vadodara; Member, Feminist Policy Collective focused on the public health response of the pandemic. She presented the Case study of Maternal health to understand the topic well. There are Social determinants affecting maternal health. Effective response is required to “build back better”. Food and livelihood security is crucial. Further, she presented data to make sense of the stark reality.

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According to CSE-APU compilation of 76 food surveys reviewed by Dreze and Somanchi-Proportion of households eating less than before the lockdown was still 60% in Oct- Dec 2020 compared to 77% during the lockdown period. Migrants, informal workers between 35- 66% eating less than two meals a day and less nutritious food even in September- October 2020. Relief measures helped but patchy and reach is a question mark. Debt traps are increasing due to depletion of physical and financial resources.

UN women report in 2021, 118 women for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 in extreme poverty, will increase to 130 women by 2030. According to World Bank Report, In India more than 12 million people will be driven to poverty because of the pandemic.

According to the fourth National Family Health Survey, 55% women are not using the health services due to high out-of -pocket expenditure and gender-bias in the health insurance schemes.

There is reduced nutrition for lactating and pregnant women. Increased workload, care work and violence. Increase mental health problems, all contributing to compromising physical status.

What comes from being infected and what comes from being affected are two different things. According to Centre for Disease Control study, there is 70% increased risk of death in pregnant women with COVID. Lancet global health report 2021 too claimed that maternal deaths and still births risen by a third because of disruption of health services.

In the second wave, more women are getting infected- 38.5% of total cases as compared to 34% in July 2020 (Telangana). Women are generally admitted later, especially those from rural areas. Denial of services is a huge issue. There are heart tormenting stories of pregnant women. Doctors are reporting dilemmas as doing a C sec on a COVID+ pregnant women will further reduce her oxygen levels because of anesthesia. Gender gap is increasing widely. Digital divide is further aggravating the situation as women in rural areas find it hard to register on COWIN app and there is vaccine hesitancy too. Following measures should be taken to build back better:

  • Increase Financial resources
  • Integrated pandemic response
  • Strengthen health wellness centers
  • Strong mental health support- Talk Therapy
  • Evidence based protocols for vaccination for pregnant women with informed consent
  • Data systems dis-aggregation- age, sex, co-morbidity
  • Clear classification of deaths
  • There needs to be transparent disclosure of information

Global health and social care are delivered by women but led by men (WHO, WGH, GHWN)

Health systems have to remove structural barriers that prevent women in health workforce from reaching leadership positions. Women have to be in leadership and decision making roles.

Ms. Renu Khanna said that we need to invest more in healthcare which is widely recognized now. Infrastructure and human resources have to expand. Health governance and transparency has to improve. Solidarity is required as Private sector exploitation has to be stopped.

Decentralized local planning with coordination has to be learned from this pandemic- Ms. Renu Khanna

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