Member Spotlight: Marie Stopes International

A Spotlight on Marie Stopes International

Enabling Safe Self-Care during COVID-19

For our second member spotlight, the Self-Care Trailblazer Group is focusing on Marie Stopes International (MSI), a global organization working to deliver reproductive choice for women. Learn more from Raveena Chowdhury, Head of Integrated Service Delivery as she discusses how MSI is working to deliver sexual and reproductive healthcare safely during the pandemic and beyond.

Tell us a bit about your organization!

Marie Stopes International is a global organization providing tailored contraception and safe abortion services to women and girls. Our local teams of professionals are passionate about the work they do in communities across 37 countries. The high-quality services they provide give a woman the power to choose if and when she has children so that she’s free to pursue her plans and dreams for herself and her family.

Our mission at Marie Stopes International is to deliver reproductive choice for women. Through the provision of high quality, safe reproductive health services for women and girls, we can support women to determine their own future, so that they can contribute to creating a better, more sustainable world for everyone.  

Why does MSI consider self-care to be a vital part of health care systems? 

For over 40 years, Marie Stopes International has led with the principle that women and girls should have access and choice regarding their reproductive decisions and related healthcare. As a result, Marie Stopes International is committed to de-medicalizing sexual and reproductive healthcare, ensuring our clients have the agency and support to determine their reproductive choices, safely. 

Our vision is that a quality self-care product is never more than one hour away for a client. That every woman and girl is able to access self-care at a convenient location, that she knows how to use the product and feels empowered to administer that self-care product safely. If she needs support or guidance, it should only be one contact away—where she can be referred for in-person care, if needed. To support this, MSI runs a network of contact centres across 27 countries, providing support for women who self-administer and handling over 1 million interactions across these centres since the start of 2020 alone.

The term self-care implies it’s the job of the woman, but in truth is that it takes partnership and vision for self-administration to happen safely. From enabling a regulatory environment where self-care products can be provided, to actually getting those products into the hands of women, self-care takes collaboration every step of the way, and MSI is proud to be part of partnerships such as SCTG to scale up self-care safely.

How does MSI believe self-care can be enabled during the pandemic?

As Marie Stopes International has reported in our frontline stories and impact, the current pandemic threatens access to sexual and reproductive healthcare globally.  As national lockdowns restrict movement, women face increased stigma for accessing services; and in diverting resources to their COVID-19 response efforts, health systems restrict access to essential healthcare, such as contraception and safe abortion.

We know from previous health crises that diverting resources away from reproductive healthcare can lead to additional deaths. During the Ebola epidemic, as many, if not more people died from increased barriers to maternal and reproductive healthcare than from the virus itself.

However, remote models of care such as telemedicine and self-administration offer routes for delivering sexual and reproductive healthcare safely during the pandemic. Evidence shows that self-administered contraception and abortion can be both effective and client-centered, and remote care can reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. However, for self-care to be enabled safely, MSI believes a strong continuum of care is needed, with four key elements:

  • Awareness: Women know what their legal rights are, which products to ask for and where to find them
  • Safe product: Women are confident they can access a safe, quality assured product
  • Support: Women know how and when to self-administer the product safely and what to expect
  • After-care: Women know what to do and where to go if they have questions, complications or require an in-person service. 

Under COVID-19, the scale up of self-care is not simply an opportunity, but a necessity. We need to jointly come up with solutions for self-care, be it for self-injectables, medical abortion, emergency contraception or even pregnancy tests, to help take the delivery of essential products out of healthcare facilities and into the hands of women.

To learn more about the challenges facing women under COVID-19 and the role self-care can play in getting reproductive healthcare into the hands of women, girls and other vulnerable populations, dive into MSI’s webinar, Choice in Her Hands: Enabling Safe Self-Care during COVID-19.  This webinar was part of MSI’s spotlight series, aiming to bring together voices from across the SRHR sector to explore key topics we are facing. Watch it here!

Want to learn more about the ways that MSI delivering sexual and reproductive healthcare through different self-care methods? Reach out to Raveena Chowdhury at raveena.chowdhury@mariestopes.org or check out our website for more details.