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Last updateTue, 15 Aug 2017 10pm

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Tackling Unsafe Abortion is key to Reducing Maternal Mortality

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Every year, worldwide, about 42 million women with unintended pregnancies choose abortion, and nearly half of these procedures, 20 million, are unsafe. Some 68,000 women die of unsafe abortion annually, making it one of the leading causes of maternal mortality (13%). Of the women who survive unsafe abortion, 5 million will suffer long-term health complications. Unsafe abortion is thus a pressing issue.


Even safe abortion in developing nations carries risks that depend on the health facility, the skill of the provider, and the gestational age of the fetus. With unsafe abortion, the additional risks of maternal morbidity and mortality depend on what method of abortion is used, as well as on women’s readiness to seek post abortion care.

In Ghana, Methods of unsafe abortion include drinking toxic fluids such as turpentine, bleach, omo and guinness, or drinkable concoctions mixed with livestock manure. Other methods involve inflicting direct injury to the vagina or in some cases a mixture of sugar and grinded bottles.

According to a United Nation Populations Funds report, maternal mortality ratio stands at 380 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births with unsafe abortions accounting for close to 65 percent of maternal deaths. This calls for very pragmatic steps to be taken especially in a society like Ghana where issues on abortion are not discussed openly.

Failure to recognize and address the fundamental causes and consequences of unsafe abortion in Ghana will take its greatest toll on the poorest women and in effect their families. Unsafe abortion endangers the security of an entire household, and places children's well-being at risk when their mothers are disabled or killed.

Although daunting, the predicament is not without solutions. Preventing unintended pregnancy should be a priority. Educating women regarding their reproductive health should be incorporated in schools. In nations that are not opposed to contraceptive use such as Ghana, increasing contraceptive services is necessary; this includes providing accurate information choices and proper use of contraceptive methods. The government and Non-Governmental Organizations need to find effective ways to overcome cultural and social misconceptions that restrict women from receiving necessary health care.

In nations where abortion is legal and in the case of Ghana having very flexible laws on abortion, providing women better access to health centers that perform abortions is imperative. Practitioners need to become better trained in safer abortion methods and be able to transfer patients to a medical facility that is capable of providing emergency care when a complication arises.

WHO strongly advises that all health facilities that treat women with incomplete abortions have the appropriate equipment and trained staff to ensure that care is consistently available and provided at a reasonable cost. In addition, post abortion family planning counseling needs to be an integral part of the service.

Evidence demonstrates that liberalizing abortion laws to allow services to be provided openly by skilled practitioners can reduce the rate of abortion-related morbidity and mortality. However, sociopolitical and religious obstacles have and will continue to play a role in passing abortion laws. The roles of research, grassroots organizations, health providers, activists, and media are vital in highlighting the importance of relaxing abortion laws to reduce significantly maternal mortality cases in Ghana.


Richard Dzikunu
Young Leader Women Deliver

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