The UN health agency during a press briefing in Brazzaville on Thursday said the pandemic has also disrupted access to essential services.
The briefing was in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, and was attended by Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director UNAIDS and Bineta Diop, AU Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that Africa is already seeing the profound impact of COVID-19 on women and girls as many who will be needing the health services might not be getting them, thereby worsening their vulnerabilities.
Ms Moeti said to avoid potentially catastrophic long-term impact, greater attention and resources are urgently needed.
She noted that the pandemic has overwhelmed the health sector and it is expected to worsen in place with humanitarian crises, including health emergencies which affect men and women differently.
According to the agency, women are disproportionately affected by lockdowns and this is resulting in a reduced access to health services.
She said a World Bank report also noted that the economic hardship due to COVID-19 is also greater for women as many are informal workers.
Ms Moeti said that women account for 90 per cent of the labour force in sub-Saharan Africa and informal sector jobs are particularly at risk during the pandemic.
She said the pandemic has also affected essential services such as access to sexual and reproductive health services have been disrupted.
“Although overall in the African Region, women account for around 40 percent of COVID-19 cases, this ranges from 35 per cent in some countries to over 55 per cent in South Africa,” she said.
According to preliminary data, in Zimbabwe, the number of caesarean sections performed decreased by 42 percent between January and April 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.
The number of live births in health facilities fell by 21 per cent, while new clients on combined birth control pills dropped by 90 per cent.
Meanwhile, in Burundi, initial statistics show that births with skilled attendants fell to 4749 in April 2020 from 30 826 in April 2019.
Also, a recent analysis published in the Lancet Global Health suggests that a reduction in maternal health services of between just 9.8-18.5 per cent could lead to as many as 12 200 additional maternal deaths over six months in low- and middle-income countries, of which Nigeria is one.
In addition, women face a higher risk of gender-based violence in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We are working with governments and partners to find ways to continue to deliver essential services safely, including the provision of personal protective equipment to health workers, many of whom are nurses and are women,” said Ms Moeti.
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