Now is the Time to Save Women from Needless Death

Last week, more than 200 providers, policymakers, advocates and NGO workers put abortion on the table, and reaffirmed the promises African leaders and governments have made to African women.

This is the sixth in a series of articles from Keeping Our Promise: Addressing Unsafe Abortion in Africa this week. The conference has brought together more than 250 health providers, advocates, policy makers and youth participants for a discussion of how to reduce the impact of unsafe abortion in Africa.

Of the nearly 67,000 deaths each year from unsafe abortion in the world, more than half are in Africa, and millions of African women suffer serious injuries from complications from unsafe abortion. Young women in particular are disproportionately affected. Between 30 and 60 women under 25 die each day in Africa from unsafe abortion.

In addition to its devastating impact on the health of women, girls, families and communities, managing complications of unsafe abortion imposes enormous costs to African health systems, including health workers’ time, drugs, medical supplies, and hospital stays.

Restrictive abortion laws and limited access to safe abortion services are the major factors contributing to the high mortality of African women from unsafe abortion. Most African countries operate under archaic abortion laws and policies that in no way reflect the realities of African women and their families. As Sharon Camp of the Guttmacher Institute mentions in her post today, these laws and policies must be changed.  Most African women and health-care providers remain unaware of their legal rights and obligations related even to the limited circumstances — such as in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman’s life — for which most African countries permit abortion.

“Most of the African conventions would have solved these problems, but they have not been implemented. It’s time to lift the veil on this experience shared by so many African families,” said Maiga sina Damba, minister for women’s, children’s and family affairs, Mali.

The Keeping Our Promise conference last week in Accra reinforced the challenges African women face and brought them out for discussion. More than 200 committed providers, policymakers, advocates and NGO workers put abortion on the table, so to speak. In the final conference declaration — drafted by sponsoring organizations with youth input and read by Fannie Kachale, deputy director of the Reproductive Health Unit, Ministry of Health, Malawi — reaffirms the promises African leaders and governments have made to African women.

Specifically, conference attendees, representing roughly 20 African countries, call on African governments to:

  • Give priority to reproductive health, particularly unsafe abortion, to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5, to reduce maternal mortality;
  • Honor commitments stipulated by the Maputo Protocol and Plan of Action;
  • Review laws that criminalize abortion;
  • Increase funding and build a sustainable supply of technologies for contraception and safe abortion care, including medical abortion.

Attendees and speakers themselves committed to lead the charge to increase access to safe abortion care and end needless deaths and injuries from unsafe abortion.

“I wish to add my voice to the call to end unsafe abortion. This is a matter of human rights,” said Honorable Juliana Azumah-Mensah, minister for women and children’s affairs, Ghana.

In agreement, Litha Musyimi Ogana, director of women, gender and development for the Africa Union, said:

“The issue of unsafe abortion demands our attention. We have the words of commitment. What we need now is action.”

The rallying cry was summed up by Ipas Vice President for Africa, Dr. Eunice Brookman Amissah, and leaders from around the continent: “You’ve heard the declaration. Our job is cut out for us.”

The time to act is now. Women and girls — mothers and sisters, daughters and friends — are dying every day in Africa. We have the knowledge, the will and the technologies to prevent these senseless deaths.