Indonesia’s family planning agency on Thursday urged couples to delay pregnancies after estimates showed that 10 percent of reproductive couples in the fourth most-populous country had abandoned contraception as a result of restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The lack of access to contraceptives could result in 420,000 unplanned pregnancies, sparking fears of a COVID-19 baby boom, said Hasto Wardoyo, the head of the National Population and Family Planning Agency (BKKBN).
“With an additional 420,000 births next year, population growth in Indonesia could surge dramatically,” he told BenarNews. “If you plan to get pregnant, now is not the right time.”
The government estimates that about 15 percent of 3 million couples who stopped using contraception between March and April could end up pregnant, Hasto said, adding that 95 percent of contraceptive users in Indonesia are women.
Hasto said people had been reluctant to visit health clinics because of fears they would contract COVID-19, while many health workers have suspended their practices to avoid contact with other people.
Government health workers assisted by military personnel are going door-to-door to provide contraceptives and other family planning services, along with personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical personnel in the field of reproductive health, he said.
Health officials in Tasikmalaya, a regency in West Java province, reported earlier this month that the pregnancy rate doubled to more than 3,200 in the January-to-March period compared to last year.
“The April-to-May period may see another rise,” said Uus Supangat, chief of the Tasikmalaya health office, according to Kumparan.com online news portal.
Nearly 5 million babies are born every year in Indonesia and about 28 million couples were using contraception last year, according to government data.
Indonesia recorded 973 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the largest single-day rise so far, taking the total to 20,162. East Java province saw the highest daily increase on Thursday, 502, COVID-19 task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said.
Globally, more than 5 million people have been infected by COVID-19 and nearly 330,000 have died as of Thursday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Obstetrics and Gynecology Association (POGI) has urged couples planning pregnancy to postpone visits to clinics until the pandemic is under control as health workers are focusing their attention on providing services to expectant women to prevent COVID-19-related complications.
“Even though there’s no evidence yet that the fetus can be infected by COVID-19, we still have to take precautions,” Budi Wiweko, POGI’s deputy secretary general, told BenarNews.
“We have to avoid caesarian delivery as much as possible,” he said.
Angga Sisca Rahadian, a researcher with the Population Research Center at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, said the predicted 420,000 additional births in 2021 would make it harder for Indonesia to achieve its total fertility rate target of 2.1. The rate refers to the average number of children a woman would have if she survives all reproductive years.
Indonesia’s total fertility rate is 2.4, according to a 2017 demographic and health survey.
“With the increase in pregnancy rates during the pandemic, it will certainly affect the growth rate,” Angga told BenarNews, referring to population growth.
Angga said the government must ensure that women who are pregnant during the pandemic are given maternity care.
“These are unplanned pregnancies and the government has to find ways to keep pregnant women well-nourished to prevent complications,” she said.
Infant mortality rate in Indonesia is 24 per 1,000 live births, while under-5 mortality rate is 32 per 1,000 live births, far beyond the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of 70 per 100,000 live births, according to the 2017 demographic survey.
Task force spokesman Yurianto attributed the jump in single-day COVID-19 cases in Indonesia to increased testing and the failure to observe social distancing measures.
He warned that the country could see an increase in infections because of higher mobility during the holy month of Ramadan culminating in the Eid al-Fitr festival, which falls on Sunday.
Traffic in the greater Jakarta region has been busier in recent days ahead of Eid al-Fitr, while airports, sea ports and markets have also started to reopen.
The head of the COVID-19 task force’s team of experts, Wiku Adisasmito, said public perception that travel restrictions had been relaxed could also be a factor.
“It could be due to increased testing, or due to the lack of discipline in observing health protocols,” he told BenarNews.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Monday said the government would not ease restrictions amid criticism that the government is silently relaxing measures to curb the spread the virus to keep the economy running.
Speculation that the government is taking steps toward reopening the economy emerged last week after Wiku said residents 45 and younger could be allowed to return to work.
He said West Java has been a bright spot in the fight against COVID-19 for its success in flattening the curve.
“Hopefully other provinces can catch up,” he said.
East Java Deputy Gov. Emil Dardak told local television that the provincial government had tested not only people who showed symptoms of COVID-19, but those who were at risk, resulting in the high number of daily cases.