Sexual and reproductive health and rights should not be neglected in COVID-19 response

In this long-read, Guo Yeuping, Core Member of China Youth Network (CYN) –  the largest youth-led volunteer organization in adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in China –   highlights the incredible role that young people have played in fighting for SRHR during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hello my dear friends, hope you and your family are doing well amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I’m Guo Yueping, Core Member of China Youth Network (CYN). CYN is a youth volunteer organization focusing on young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in China. It was initiated and established by China Family Planning Association (CFPA) in June 2004, with the support of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

With reference to the SPRINT Training on the Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for Sexual and Reproductive Health in Crises collaboratively developed by IPPF, UNFPA, and IAWG, we have attached importance to SRHR in the COVID-19 epidemic in China. I would like to share with you how young people in China fought for SRHR during the epidemic.

From sanitary pads to adult diapers: why did we choose to donate the latter?

In response to COVID-19, more than 20,000 medical workers from different provinces and cities of China joined in the emergency aid at the epicenter, Hubei Province. 

With plenty of past experiences working on SRHR in crisis, we soon noticed female medical worker’s need for menstruation hygiene supplies due to the shortage of sanitary supplies in the affected areas. On February 7th, 2020, we started our donation trip by sending 2,208 sanitary pads to Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University. 

Illustration 2: Runtian Lyu, volunteer of China Youth Network was working on raising donation on February 12th, 2020.

After the first attempt, we reassessed the current situation. Due to the shortage of protection clothing, medical workers tried their best not to go to restrooms very frequently in order to save more personal protection equipment. Compared to sanitary pads, adult diapers have a better absorbing capacity, which is useful for absorbing both menses and urine, and suitable for both male and female medical workers. Thus, we decided to donate adult diapers, to meet more medical workers’ needs and support them.

 “Adult diaper is not on the list of COVID-19 response supplies.
 I am afraid that it cannot be delivered through the Green Channel.”

As a group of volunteers, we were all green hands in raising donation. We were excited and confident at first, but soon encountered many great difficulties that we didn’t expect.

The first big problem we met was funds. We didn’t know that most of the money donated was earmarked for protection supplies only. That means if we want to donate diapers, we have to find new donors. With the support of several foundations, we finally found the first donor, raised 34,560 RMB ($4,877) and purchased 240 boxes of adult diapers. However, the second big problem came quickly. How can we deliver these supplies to medical workers when Hubei Province was on lockdown? 

Illustration 2: Runtian Lyu, volunteer of China Youth Network was working on raising donation on February 12th, 2020.

At that time, several express companies provided the Green Channel, through which COVID-19 response supplies could be delivered to Hubei Province free of charge. However, we were rejected back and forth because “adult diaper is not on the list of COVID-19 response supplies.” We were told that the certification documents from the Red Cross Society of China Hubei Branch or Hubei Charity Federation were needed for the Green Channel delivery.

It’s even harder to negotiate with different organizations at the same time. We had to explain the necessity of adult diapers and the neglected SRHR needs in COVID-19 response once and once again. However, we hold on and tried our best to work through the difficulties because medical workers reported their needs very often and using adult diapers while battling COVID-19 is their basic right. Finally, after countless rounds of negotiation with different organizations, we made it. 

Illustration 3: Adult diapers received by Wuhan Children’s Hospital on February 16th, 2020.

On February 16th of 2020, all 240 boxes of adult diapers (15,840 pieces) arrived at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University and the Wuhan Children’s Hospital. 

Illustration 4: Adult diapers received by Wuhan Children’s Hospital on February 16th, 2020.

This is not the first time that we have focused on the “special needs” in humanitarian settings

As a youth volunteer organization focusing on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights, China Youth Network have been concerning about young people’s SRHR needs in different contexts. The difficulty of accessing menstruation hygiene necessities was not the only SRHR-related problem in COVID-19 epidemic.
Since the outbreak, many unmet SRHR needs emerged, such as lack of maternal health services,  lack of access to contraceptives, unwanted pregnancy, gender-based violence,  HIV/AIDS medicine, etc. In fact, these risks were supposed to be identified and prevented earlier.

When the Typhoon Lekima hit China last year, we launched a pilot project, which is interacting SRHR education with disaster prevention and response, in 30 universities in areas that affected the most. After this attempt, we noticed that more experience were needed if we want to adapt the existing guidance to domestic context.

Illustration 5: Lecture about SRHR in emergency situations in Weifang University of Science and Technology in September, 2019

The experience we had in COVID-19 pandemic is a misfortune tragedy and a chance for us to learn more about local problems. Thus, our next step is to combine international guidance with local experiences, and develop new programs. Also, we plan to advocate for SRHR needs in humanitarian settings on both domestic and international levels, to improve the aid and support system. Tragedy shall not repeat itself.

 

Our achievements

 

By 19th March of 2020, we have successfully donated 92,044 pieces of adult diapers, 41,610 pieces of nursing pads, 5,680 pieces of sanitary pads, 3,280 medical face shields, 1,200 bottles of hand disinfectant solution, 925 disposable beddings, 500 bottles of air disinfectant and some medical machines to hospitals in Hubei Province. 

Volunteers: Yueping Guo, Runtian Lyu, Han Xu, Tianmeng Lan, Jinyun Chen, Zhaorui Xing

About The Author: Yueping Guo is the Core Member of China Youth Network (CYN), the largest youth-led volunteer organization in adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in China. Supported by China Family Planning Association and UNFPA China Office, she and her team have supported young people in more than 500 universities to carry out peer education, outreach activities, social campaign on SRHR and HIV/AIDS prevention.
She graduated from Renmin University of China with dual bachelor degrees in Journalism and International Politics. Currently, she is pursuing her master degree in International Communication in Chinese Academy of Social Science.

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