By Sola Ogundipe
THE call by Ministers of Health of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the passage of abortion laws all its member States includingÂ Nigeria, has been received with mixed feelings.
The call which was contained in a communiquÃ© issued after the First Extraordinary Assembly of ECOWAS Health Ministers held recently at Obudu Mountain Resort in Cross River State, is intended as to beÂ part of efforts to reduce the incidence of high Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) within the sub region.
Findings by Good Health Weekly reveal that while a number of persons welcome the development, others areÂ not particularly disposed to the idea of passing any law that would relax abortion current abortion policy in the country even though the Health MinistersÂ Â observedÂ in the communique that the abortion laws â€œwill reflect the social contextsâ€™â€™ ofÂ respective ECOWAS member states.
Essentially, abortion is illegal in Nigeria except to save the life of the woman, but hundreds of thousands of women resort to it each year, hence information on the incidence of abortion and on the consequences of abortion outside the health care system is needed to develop policies and programs that will address the problem.
Each year, approximately 610,000 abortions are procured in Nigeria, a high percentage of which is believed to contribute to the nationâ€™s high maternal mortality rate.
So even though highly restricted, abortions take place in large numbers in Nigeria, under both safe and unsafe conditions and revised reproductive health policies are required to reduce unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion.
The Ministers recalled the effect of unsafe abortion as a contributory factor to high maternal mortality ratio saying that abortion laws, when enacted, would lead to a reduction in the number of women who die from pregnancy related causes.
The Ministers noted the importance of involving men in family planning interventions as part of strategies to address the issues of maternal, newborn and child health.
They called on West African Health Organization (WAHO) to identify best practices in maternal, newborn and child health and to disseminate same practices among member states and to develop a common strategic plan for the attainment of MDGs 4, 5 and 6.
The Ministers identified tools for health systems strengtheningÂ which include human resource for health, logistics management system, policy development, data generation and operations management strengthening as key to improving maternal, newborn and child health, whileÂ emphasising the importance of the coordinating role of WAHO in the region.