Unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion is still a problem in some societies despite the increase in effective and safe methods of contraception and the distribution of information about these methods. Unsafe abortion constitutes a major threat to the health and lives of women and children.
Unsafe abortions carry a high risk of maternal mortality and morbidity, accounting for more than 80,000 maternal deaths per year. Although many countries do not keep statistics on abortions, there is evidence that millions of “legal” and illegal abortions take place in the world every year.
Induced abortion is a common procedure worldwide and at least half of more than 45 million induced abortions which happen in a year are performed under unsafe circumstances.
Between 50 million and 60 million unborn babies perish each year by abortion. This is like sweeping the entire population of the Hawaiian Islands off the map!
Incredibly, 25 million unsafe abortions (45 percent of all abortions) occurred every year between 2010 and 2014, according to a study by World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Guttmacher Institute published in The Lancet. Meanwhile, the majority of unsafe abortions or 97 percent occurred in developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
In Nigeria for instance, the Performance Monitoring Accountability (PMA2020) report revealed that the annual incidence of likely abortions was 41.1 per 1,000 women age 15 to 49, that is, nearly 1.8 million abortions in 2017. When information related to the experience of respondents’ closest confidantes is included, the report stated that the number of likely abortions in Nigeria rose to 2.7 million in the year under review.
Meanwhile, more than six out of 10 abortions were considered least safe, and 11 percent of women experienced complications for which they sought post-abortion care at a health facility, says the report. It added that women living in rural areas, women with no education, and women who are poor were the most likely to have the least safe abortions.
The world health body reports that when women and girls cannot access effective contraception services, there are serious consequences for their own health and that of their families. This should not happen. But despite recent advances in technology and evidence, too many unsafe abortions still occur, and too many women continue to suffer and die.
Dr. Bela Ganatra, a scientist in the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research, notes that increased efforts are needed, especially in developing regions, to ensure access to contraception.
Experts agree that if all women wishing to avoid pregnancy could use modern methods of contraception, around 25 percent of maternal deaths could be averted.
Indeed, governments must make reproductive health and family planning essential service available, especially as COVID-19 pandemic persists.
This is because reproductive health services are essential to the overall wellbeing of the development of women and also the family.
Sadly, many developing countries, including Nigeria is losing the gains made over the years in reproductive health due to disruption of reproductive health services.
Statistics from the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH) in Nigeria show that the current COVID-19 has brought a number of challenges to the country, most of these are directly or indirectly related to population and underdevelopment.
UNFPA is working with governments and partners to respond to the essential needs of women and girls of reproductive age who are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. UNFPA is focusing on countries that have weak public health and social support systems, including countries in fragile and humanitarian situations.
UNFPA helps governments strengthen the capacity of their health systems, procuring and delivering essential supplies, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and gender-based violence services, promoting risk communication and community engagement, and contributing to the joint UN impact assessment of the pandemic.
In addition to advocating for gender-sensitive responses, UNFPA has been providing material support to affected health systems.
Pathfinder International Nigeria is providing technical abilities to strengthen the supply and demand for sexual and reproductive health services. The organisation has continued to work with local institutions including advocacy working groups of family planning as well as the media to ensure it maintains these services.
However, affected countries must take action to safeguard stronger progress towards women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health needs to ensure that the public health crisis does not escalate.
It is time for Nigeria to take responsibility for stepping up reproductive health services, including family planning. Government must ensure that the lingering pandemic does not push the country behind after the modest strides, it has made in improving access to sexual and reproductive health services.