Abortion: Public Health Expert decries High Death Rate 

By Olubunmi Osoteku, Ikeja 

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Some Public health experts, including scholars and researchers, have decried the high rate of death resulting from unsafe abortion, especially among adolescents, in Nigeria and urged government to increase investment in Sexual and Reproductive Health (SHR).


The experts, who agreed that the lives of women and girls, aged 15-49, lost daily to abortion is worth more than the amount of funding required to provide the needed facilities and services to keep them alive, argued that comprehensive sexuality education should be provided for adolescents.


The professionals made this known during a special session on: “The Public Health Challenges of Unintended Pregnancies and Abortion: Global and National Dimension”, facilitated by a Non Governmental Organisation, Academy for Health Development (AHEAD), Ile-Ife, Osun State, in collaboration with Guttmacher Institute, New York, USA.


The session was held as part of activities of the 5th Scientific Conference of the Society for Public Health Professionals of Nigeria (SPHPN), held at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja.


At the event, a Professor of Community Medicine and Public Health, Adesegun Fatusi, disclosed that Nigeria had the highest burden of maternal mortality, according to latest research by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and no fewer than 67,000 women die annually in Nigeria from pregnancy-related causes, with a record of at least 20 deaths on a daily basis across the country, and about 11% of deaths among mothers, due to abortion.


Fatusi noted: “That is worrisome and troubling. But we do know from global data that deaths from abortion are due to unsafe abortion because the statistics show globally that safe abortion does not necessarily result in maternal mortality. The risk is not as significant. So, anytime we talk about abortion and death, we are practically talking about unsafe abortion.”


He revealed that unsafe abortion, as defined by professionals, is when abortion is done by somebody who is not medically qualified or by using a method that is not appropriate or recommended by WHO, saying death from unsafe abortion could be reversed and decreased dramatically if women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health (SHR) needs were met through additional per capital investment of $27.15 to the current $3.11.


He said: “If all needs were met for contraceptive, maternal, new born and abortion care in Nigeria, unintended pregnancies would drop by 80%; abortion would drop by 80%; unsafe abortion would drop by 80%; maternal deaths would drop by 61% and newborn death would drop by 76%.”


While giving a global overview on unintended pregnancies and abortion, a Senior Research Scientist at Guttmacher Institute, Dr Jonathan Bearak, said a recent survey indicated that unintended pregnancy rate and unintended birth rate were on the decline globally among women, disclosing that abortion rates were similar in countries that do and do not prohibit abortion, with wide variation in rates, including among countries in a region.


On his part, Dr Ejike Oji, a physician and Chairman, Management Committee, Association for the Advancement of Family Planning, posited that the rates of unintended pregnancies and abortion are going up in Nigeria, leading to a rise in abortion-related death, explaining that such happens women want to terminate pregnancies they could not prevent.


He stated: “When women are unsuccessful in stopping pregnancies that they don’t want, the most likely thing is that they want to terminate that pregnancy, whether it is legal or not. And what usually happens is that you have a lot of disabilities caused. In fact the greatest cause of infertility in Nigeria is complications from unsafe abortion.”


The National Coordinator, African Youth and Adolescent Network on Population and Development, Elizabeth Alatu-Williams, asserted that many adolescents engage in unsafe sex leading to unintended pregnancies and in the long run, unsafe abortion, emphasising the importance of comprehensive sexuality education for the adolescents and young persons.


She said: “It is a form of education that empowers them with life skills around goal-setting, self-esteem, values, assertiveness, being able to make decisions for themselves, being able to say no to sex until when they know that they are ready, and also being able to engage in safe sex if at all they actually have it or engage in sexual activities.”


Other participants at the conference enjoined the government, religious leaders, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to up the game and make safe spaces available for adolescents so they can make the right choices and be protected from death occasioned by unintended pregnancy leading to unsafe abortion.
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