The COVID-19 pandemic pushed governments worldwide to implement unprecedented mitigation measures, including safe-distancing, lockdowns, disruption of non-essential services, border closures and travel restrictions, with both potential to affect rural and urban service-users differently and unintended consequences including reductions in sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. We aimed to explore rural–urban differences in progress and challenges in SRH services provision in Cambodia, particularly during initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We used a mixed-methods study design, including a household survey of 423 adolescents and women aged 18–49 and semi-structured interviews with 21 healthcare providers. We analysed survey data using multivariable logistic regression to identify associations between rural–urban setting and contraceptive perceptions or access. We analysed interview data thematically.
Rural–urban residence was significantly associated with reported perceptions about and access to contraceptives. Rural participants had higher odds of stating it was possible to change contraceptive methods early in the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with urban participants. Qualitative data showed that although SRH services continued, health-workers faced differential challenges in rural and urban areas, e.g. service-users not attending due to job losses in urban areas and not complying with safe-distancing and mask-wearing requests in rural areas.
COVID-19 and inadequate mitigation responses differentially affected rural and urban SRH service providers and service-users, exacerbating existing socioeconomic stressors while adding new fears of infection, transport constraints, and reduced livelihoods. Added financial support could help mitigate challenges in both rural and urban areas.