Unsafe abortion—and complications—too common in Malawi


Unsafe abortion—and complications—too common in Malawi

In countries like Malawi, where safe abortion is restricted or not available, women often turn to clandestine and unsafe abortions when faced with an unintended pregnancy. However, abortion isn’t uncommon—roughly 67,300 induced abortions occur annually in Malawi. Unfortunately, neither are the injuries and even deaths that occur because of the law and other barriers—such as stigma and lack of access to services— that leave women with few safe options.

Roughly one in five women seeking postabortion care in Malawi suffers from severe, often life-threatening complications, such as sepsis, according to a study published in theInternational Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.

In 2009, the Malawi College of MedicineIpas and the Ministry of Health’s Reproductive Health Unit conducted a nationally representative study to estimate the severity of abortion complications in health facilities and to determine the risks for women. Data on 2,067 women seeking postabortion care was collected from a total of 166 facilities—primarily public and some private and NGO—throughout the country.

According to a related study published in June 2013, about 18,700 women were treated in health facilities for complications from unsafely perfomed induced abortions in the community in 2009. “What we found in this work is that severe complications are common, particularly for rural and vulnerable women,” says Brooke Levandowski, one of this study’s authors and lead author of the 2013 study.

It’s important to note, say the researchers, when women’s access to safe abortion is restricted, women will seek unsafe services or use unsafe methods to end a pregnancy. Eighteen percent of maternal deaths in Malawi are attributable to unsafe abortion, according to the World Health Organization. Young women, poor women, rural women and otherwise marginalized women suffer the most—from lack of contraception and youth-appropriate services to scarce access to safe abortion and postabortion care.

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