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AFRO-NETS> African women suffer disproportionately from preventable deaths

  • Subject: AFRO-NETS> African women suffer disproportionately from preventable deaths
  • From: Media Resource Advocacy Centre <mracnigeria@yahoo.com>
  • Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2003 05:13:30 -0500 (EST)

African women suffer disproportionately from preventable deaths

From Akin Jimoh

March 5, 2003 - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

To prevent deaths and other complications from unsafe abortion in Af-
rica more than 100 medical professionals, legal experts, researchers,
ministers of health, youth leaders, parliamentarians and women?s
health activists from 15 African countries convene in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia for the first-ever regional consultation on unsafe abortion,
a global public-health crisis that has affected tens of millions of
African women and their families.

The three-day ?Action to Reduce Maternal Mortality in Africa? confer-
ence would focus on encouraging greater attention to making legal
abortion safe and available to African women, about 30,000 of whom
die every year from complications of abortions that are self-induced
or performed by unqualified personnel, often in unhygienic settings.

Globally, nearly 70,000 women worldwide die each year from unsafe
abortion, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and mil-
lions more are injured. Experts agree that these deaths and injuries
are entirely preventable, including through better provision of fam-
ily planning and other measures to prevent abortion.

While every African country legally permits abortion in at least some
circumstances ­ such as in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman?s
life, there is often a huge chasm between women?s right to legal
abortion and their ability to obtain safe abortion services, says
Professor Oladapo Ladipo, president of Association for Reproductive
and Family Health, Ibadan Nigeria who delivered the keynote address.

The organizers said the conference is being hosted in Ethiopia based
on the fact that the country is one of the countries hardest hit. Re-
cently, WHO officials said that more Ethiopian women die in hospital
from complications of unsafe, usually illegal abortion than from al-
most any other cause, and that about 70 percent of women brought to
hospital suffering from serious problems after back-street abortions
die. Most are between the ages of 16 and 20.

Globally, no fewer than 19 million unsafe abortion take place yearly,
4.2 million in Africa.

According to Ladipo, no fewer than 1,000 out of 100,000 women die as
a result of pregnancy-related illnesses in Nigeria. Also about 61,000
abortion are performed yearly in the country, majority of which are
by non qualified individuals. Indeed 40 % of maternal deaths (50,000)
are due to unsafe abortion) while 80 % of complications from unsafe
abortion are in adolescents.

?The death of a young girl from unsafe abortion is a loss to the
whole society,? said Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah, a former Minister
of Health of Ghana who now heads the Ipas Africa Alliance for Women's
Reproductive Health and Rights, one of the conference organizers. The
conference is chaired by Dr. Fred Sai of Ghana, former president of
the International Planned Parenthood Federation and former senior ad-
visor on population for the World Bank.

Conference attendees will in various breakout sessions examine laws,
policies and international commitments influencing access to safe
abortion care in Africa; health systems? role in meeting women?s
needs for safe abortion care; and strategies for creating an enabling
environment that supports women?s right to safe abortion care. The
organizers particularly note that the need to address unsafe abortion
is particularly urgent in light of recent steps by the U.S. govern-
ment ­ the leading international funder of family planning and other
reproductive-health programs in developing countries. Along with 178
other nations, at the 1994 United Nations Conference on Population
and Development (ICPD) the United States agreed on the need to make
abortion safe where it is legal and to take other steps to protect
women from unsafe abortion.

But the administration of President George W. Bush has seemed to back
off from those commitments. For example, in January 2001 Bush rein-
stituted the Global Gag Rule, which disqualifies foreign nongovern-
mental organizations (NGOs) from receiving U.S. family planning fund-
ing if they provide counseling on abortion, provide safe, legal abor-
tion services (except in very narrow circumstances), or participate
in political debate surrounding abortion.

?The gag rule?s impact in Africa is tragic," said Brookman-Amissah.
"As leaders who are concerned about Africa?s women and Africa?s fu-
ture, we cannot and will not be gagged. We must speak out and we must
do something to stop unsafe abortion from killing our women and

Other cosponsors of the consultation are Amanitare African Partner-
ship for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and
Girls; the Centre for Gender and Development of the Economic Commis-
sion of Africa; the Commonwealth Regional Health Community Secre-
tariat (CRHCS); and the Regional Prevention of Maternal Mortality
Network (RPMMN). The local host committee includes the Ethiopian Min-
istry for Women?s Affairs, the Ethiopian Office of Population, the
Family Guidance Association of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Society of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ESOG).

Media Resource Advocacy Centre

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