You are currently viewing Unsafe abortions a growing concern

Unsafe abortions a growing concern

MELODY MUPETA, Kitwe

AT ONLY 17 years of age, Taonga Chola* was on the verge of losing her life after she had an abortion, which landed her in the emergency room at the local hospital. She will never forget that day because she left the theatre without a vital and treasured part of her body – the womb. Removing her womb was the only option doctors had to save her life. Taonga, now aged 23, was in Grade 11 when she fell pregnant by her then boyfriend who, unfortunately, denied responsibility. She says her desperation to get rid of the pregnancy forced her to consult a friend, who directed her to a local traditional healer to have the pregnancy terminated. “I had no means of taking care of a child, so I had to choose the tough road of opting for an abortion when it (pregnancy) was five months old,” Taonga says. She says after she was given the concoction to terminate the pregnancy, she experienced excruciating pain, followed by severe bleeding, prompting her to open up to her parents. Without delay, her parents rushed her to the hospital, where an operation was done as a matter of urgency. Medical personnel managed to save her life but, unfortunately, had to remove her womb because it was ‘damaged’. After the operation, the doctor broke the bad news to Taonga that she would not be able to have children of her own because her womb had been removed. “I feel bad that I ruined the opportunity to become a mother and I wish I did things differently,” she says in a low tone. Taonga feels she found herself in that predicament due to lack of information on sexual reproductive health (SRH) matters. She says had there been someone to talk to her about her sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR), she would have made a wiser decision of either abstaining or using contraceptives. Mercy Nkomanga*, 17 (not real name), also had an unsafe abortion when she was only 15 years old and she did it after taking some concoction that her friends prescribed to her. Mercy says the concoction made her bleed, prompting her to visit a private hospital for post-abortion care. She recalls that she almost died as she started experiencing severe stomach pains. When the pain persisted, she went back to the hospital and was asked to do a scan, which revealed that she had blood clots in her stomach. Although she is now fine, Mercy regrets having engaged in sexual activities without taking any precautions. She says she ended up getting pregnant at a tender age due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education both at home and at school. In Kitwe, where Taonga and Mercy live, evidence suggests that adolescents are making early sexual debuts, while the number of young people who are having unsafe abortions is equally growing. According to the Ministry of Health, 207 cases of unsafe abortions were recorded in Kitwe from January to September this year. The cases were recorded among females aged between 15 to 24 years, with 58 of the adolescents having been treated in health facilities in the first quarter of the year after having unsafe abortions. About 70 adolescents received post-abortion care in healthcare facilities in the second quarter of the year, while 79 were treated in the third quarter. According to Zambia Association of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (ZAGO), at least one in every five women that visit a health facility for abortion aftercare services on the Copperbelt and Lusaka has had an unsafe abortion. The unsafe abortion cases which continue being recorded have raised a lot of concerns among various stakeholders, who want more awareness on SRH to be done to curb unsafe abortions. In an interview, ZAGO president Swebby Macha said there is need to increase awareness on the availability of safe and legal abortion services in healthcare facilities if the number of unsafe abortions is to be reduced. Dr Macha attributed the move by adolescents to engage in unsafe methods of pregnancy termination due to lack of knowledge on the existence of SRH services. “Most of the people opt to unsafely terminate their pregnancies due to lack of information on their sexual rights,” he said. Human rights lawyer and defender Namuchana Mushabati says most people do not understand their SRHR, which makes it difficult for them to demand for services. Ms Mushabati says young people end up getting pregnant and terminating their pregnancies because of stigma that those who attempt to get SRH services in health facilities face. She said there is need to sensitise members of the public on SRH services so that those in need could know where to get the services. Echoing Dr Macha’s sentiments, Ms Mushabati said medical abortion is legal in Zambia and services are available in healthcare facilities in line with the Termination of Pregnancy Act. ZAGO monitoring and evaluation officer Benedictus Mangala attributed the prevalence of unsafe abortions in Kitwe to inadequate availability of contraceptives in health facilities, a claim that the Ministry of Health rebutted. He says most health facilities usually run out of stock of the contraceptives, leaving most adolescents with no choice but to engage in unsafe sex, thus resulting in unintended pregnancies. “Once they get pregnant, they feel the urge to have an abortion desperately,” he said in an interview. Mr Mangala says unsafe abortions not only threaten lives of adolescents, but also cause long-term effects such as infertility and marital conflicts. He says most adolescents tend to use harmful means to terminate their pregnancies, which could lead to death or infertility in affected couples. Mr Mangala says ZAGO will continue to engage teachers, traditional leaders and other stakeholders in promoting access to SRH information. Ministry of Health chief safe motherhood officer Caren Chizuni, however, said the country has an adequate stock of contraceptives which are available for all females, including adolescents. Ms Chizuni said the ministry requires consent from either parents or guardians for adolescents to access contraceptives in healthcare facilities. She says this is meant to ensure that parents and guardians supervise their children as they get the contraceptives. “We require consent for adolescents that want to be on contraceptives and we leave it open to them to choose the guardian they are comfortable with,” Ms Chizuni says. She says adolescents are also given specific days when they can access contraceptives in public health facilities to avoid a situation where they could mix with older women. Ms Chizuni says this is meant to ensure that adolescents are comfortable and given privacy as they go to access contraceptives at healthcare facilities. She, however, says this information is still not known by many adolescents, especially those that are not in school. This, she says, is the reason why there are still cases of unsafe abortions being recorded among young people. Ms Chizuni says school-going adolescents are usually exposed to this information through their school curriculum. *Names changed to protect sources.

(Story courtesy of AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa – ARASA