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Include domestic violence response as an essential service : WHO Chief Scientist

Our Bureau Chennai | Updated on August 08, 2020 Published on August 08, 2020

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan on Saturday urged all the member countries to include domestic violence response as an essential service to tackle the raising number of domestic violence instances ever since the pandemic-induced lockdown.

“As countries put in stringent lockdown measures, a large number of reports are coming from different countries about increased incidence of intimate partner violence or domestic violence both against women and children,” said Swaminathan.

“Women's care burden has increased, their livelihood affected, access to basic necessities were reduced, social and protective networks were disrupted and services for survivors have also diminished creating an increased stress in the household,” she added.

She was delivering a special lecture on ‘Broader health impacts of Covid’ as part of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation Annual conference titledScience for Resilient Food, Nutrition and Livelihoods: Contemporary Challenges’ being held between August 7-10.

Swaminathan urged the WHO member states to include responses to violence against women, particularly intimate partner violence, as an essential services to combat this menace.

“All governments have a list of essential services and it is important to include the sexual and reproductive services as well as services for survivors of violence be included in those,” she added.

The WHO Chief Scientist also said that abortion and contraceptive services have also been interrupted in many countries as a result and there will be a large increase in the number of children being born.

Highlighting that women account for 70 per cent of the global health workforce and highly represented at the frontline, Swaminathan said, therefore they have the high risks of Covid-19 exposure.

“We need to collect data on the Covid infection among healthcare workers and other social care providers and put adequate safeguards for the health of these people, who perform essential duties both men and women,” she said.

She also added that limited availability of sex and age dis-aggregated data is hampering the thesis for the gendered implication of Covid-19 and development of appropriate responses. “Of the 194 member states of WHO, only 38 per cent of countries were actually reporting age and sex dis-aggregated data,”

Swaminathan said, “Therefore, it is very difficult to tell how the disease is affecting men and women and to interpret gender differences and age groups.”

She further said that there may be geographical variations in infection rates and deaths between men and women in different parts of the world and it is very important to understand the factors behind that. “Our request to member states is to collect, report and analyse data on Covid-19 cases dis-aggregated by sex and age and all the other factors to both help identify and address the covid-related health inequalities.”

Social stigma

Lamenting the stigma created around Covid-infected patients, Swaminathan said this kind of stigmatisation is a terrible addition to the problems that the patients are already undergoing.

A globally recognised researcher on tuberculosis and HIV, Swaminathan said, “We have seen this (stigma) in diseases like HIV. It is only due to the global community of HIV advocates and activists that stigma is reduced to a large extent.”

She added that such stigma could result in physical violence, resulting in exclusion, limited access to health, education and social benefits and employment opportunities.

Inviting the media to play a role in allaying unwanted fears, she said, “Just like how we have a big campaign on how to report on suicides or HIVs, there needs to be some norms on reporting on Covid so that unnecessary stigma and discrimination can be avoided.”

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Published on August 08, 2020
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