The expanding COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the social lives of people across the world. A collaboration between researchers at the UNC Institute for Global Health & Infectious Disease, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the Academic Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Policy is seeking to discover the effects of pandemic lockdown practices on sexual and reproductive health. The International Sexual Health and Reproductive Health (I-SHARE) Survey is seeking to examine COVID-19 effects on sexual and reproductive practices in low-, middle-, and high-income countries. Thirty-three countries across the globe are participating in the project, with more partner institutions joining I-SHARE every day. Topics the survey focus on include contraceptive use, access to reproductive healthcare, sexual/gender-based violence, and STI prevalence.
The consequences of COVID-19 measures on access to essential healthcare services is still largely unknown. Conducting research on the topic has also become increasingly difficult due to lockdown regulations. Joseph Tucker, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UNC and one of the architects of the I-SHARE project, says, “COVID-19 has turned many things upside down. For example, population-representative surveys are the gold standard for understanding sexual health, behaviors, and outcomes. Yet COVID-19 lockdowns preclude this type of rigorous inquiry, and we still need to have some data on sexual behaviors during this time. The I-SHARE project will help to fill this gap and inform local policies related to sexual health.”
Three UNC undergraduate students in the Honors Carolina program are taking part in working groups. Priya Kosana, a junior biology student, is helping the survey implementation working group to use social media as a participant recruitment method. Sonam Shah, a junior health policy and management student at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, is working on data analytics and circumnavigating the pitfalls of convenience sampling in survey research. Takhona Hlatshwako, also a junior health policy and management student, is focusing on digital programming of surveys and tailoring surveys to in-country needs.
The I-SHARE project will shed light on how a restructure of healthcare systems to accommodate for the pandemic has affected other facets of global health. Sexual and reproductive health, a neglected field of study under the best of circumstances, is bound to have changed under COVID-19 lockdown conditions.
— Story by Priya Kosana, UNC ’22
Click here to access a list of the various country-specific live surveys.
Click here for the project website.