By Chioma Obinna
With over half a million women in Nigeria suffer from complications from abortions annually; medical experts have lamented preventable deaths from abortions in Nigeria and other medium countries.
According to Guttmacher Institute 2020 report, an estimated 33 abortions occur annually per 1,000 women aged 15-49, with little variation across Eastern, Middle, Southern and Western Africa but the rate has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades.
However, as a result of population growth, the annual number of abortions in Sub-Saharan Africa almost doubled between 1995-1999 and 2015-2019, from 4.3 million to 8.0 million.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 77 percent of abortions are estimated to be unsafe-that is, they are done by an untrained person, done using a non recommended method or both. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of abortion-related deaths in the world, at 185 maternal deaths per 100,000 abortions.
Lamenting the unacceptable situation at a webinar on Media Coverage of Unsafe Abortion in Nigeria, the Principal Fellow and Co-founder of Academy for Health Development, AHEAD, Prof. Adesegun Fatusi identified unsafe abortion as the fourth leading cause of death among pregnant women in low and medium income countries.
Fatusi said unsafe abortion is associated with maternal complications including bleeding, infections and trauma of sexual and reproductive organs.
In his presentation entitled ‘Unsafe Abortion: Beyond The Headlines,’ Fatusi disclosed that half a million women in Nigeria experience complications from abortions every year, and these are significant enough to the system, the affected families, and households.
“Interestingly and importantly, unsafe abortion is preventable that is why we must act to prevent unsafe abortions.
“In Africa particularly Sub-Saharan Africa about three- quarter of abortions are unsafe and that is why the risk of dying from abortion is very high in Africa and remained a challenge. The proportion that has an unsafe abortion in West Africa amounts to 85 percent while; less than 15 per cent have a safe abortion in some advanced economic nations.
Fatusi explained that in regions with more restrictive abortion laws, abortions are more likely to take place in an unsafe environment or handled by untrained persons.
He said the law does not stop abortion; what it does is change the context in which abortions take place. Hence in places where the abortion laws are less restrictive, a significant proportion of the abortions are safe.
He traced the high rate of unintended pregnancies due to the low level of utilisation of contraceptives.
Also contributing, Grace Gabala of the Guttmacher Institute, said based on recent media trainings on abortion supported by the Guttmacher, “We have witnessed increase in news coverage on unsafe abortion by journalists who attended the capacity building programmes.
She said the Guttmacher Institute have been providing data on unsafe abortion which is critical for policy reforms in some countries. “In recent years, we have focused on communication and advocacy efforts around the key message that women will seek abortion no matter its legal status.
“Abortion becomes unsafe when there is a lack of access to safe abortion; often but not always determined by the legal restriction.”
She called for increased investment in post-abortion care (PAC) services to stop clandestine abortions that are occurring in countries where abortion is restricted.
On his part, Sola Adesanmi, a journalist on the panel, noted that there is a low level of literacy with regard to abortion issues in the country, adding that these backgrounds make it imperative to involve media practitioners to enable them to change the narrative aimed at curbing increasing deaths and morbidity from unsafe.