Every year, on September 28, the world converges to commemorate International Safe Abortion Day (ISAD).
This is a time when professional societies, such as the Zambia Association of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians (ZAGO), activists and many other people around the world take action to speak out in defence of access to safe and legal abortion. Each action is bold, brave, and creative, which made this year’s ISAD much more exciting under the theme: “Abortion in Uncertain Times”. Indeed, ‘uncertain times’ in view of the many heinous events that have engulfed the world such as wars, conflicts, and natural disasters like floods, storms, fires, hunger to name but a few – which have had substantial negative effect on the provision of healthcare services including safe abortion.
Of late, there has been exponential rise in attacks on women’s abortion rights in certain parts of the world. Such terrible attacks have time and again forced women to carry unwanted pregnancies to full term, with lifelong consequences against their will.
ZAGO held activities for this year’s ISAD in three provinces: Mongu [Western), Ndola [Copperbelt], and Lusaka Provinces. The commemorations were characterised by radio program, drama, poems, school debates, and door-to-door community sensitisation on the important of access to safe abortion.
“This year’s theme, “Abortion in Uncertain Times” calls for a moment of reflection about the sad realities happening around the world,” notes Lusaka District Commissioner, Rose Zulu, who was the guest at the commemorations in Lusaka’s Matero/Lilanda township. “Sad as they may be, we are all living in a world full of of fear; a world of uncertainties engulfed by pandemics such as covid19, natural calamities and disasters of different hues: storms, fires, draughts – that are and continue to displace hundred of thousands of people from their homes. As though not enough, human made disasters such as regional wars and conflicts are further escalating, displacing people from their natural settings. These unpleasant events have not only affected lives of people, but also paralysed health systems and provision of essential healthcare services around the world. Due to the displacements that take place, a lot of women and girls face several barriers in accessing Sexual Reproductive Health services such as contraceptives and SRHR information. Some of the women and girls end up in forced sexual relations, rape, transnational sex trafficking as well as transactional sex to survive the dire situations. Some of them unfortunately end up with unintended pregnancies. Such women and girls face serious challenges in accessing counselling, correct and safe medical services such as safe abortion within the confines of the law.
It is from this context that this year’s International Safe Abortion Day drew the attention of the world to reflect and act swiftly to bring to an end these catastrophic conditions which continue to claim lives.
Despite the existence of the law, the Lusaka Province District Commissioner adds, “Our women and adolescents still resort to methods that are not only unsafe, but also deadly. why? Presumably, because of ignorance; lack of knowledge and information that safe abortion is legal in Zambia.”
And ZAGO President Dr Swebby Macha echoed the district commissioner’s sentiments and highlighted the importance of access to safe abortion in order to reduce maternal mortality in the country.
“Safe abortion is a critical health service in addressing morbidity and maternal deaths in our country. You may be aware that currently, 7 percent of maternal mortality results from unsafe abortions. This percent in numerical terms is too large to fathom where life is concerned. It is for this reason that in early 2019, ZAGO embarked on a project, “The Zambia prevention of unsafe abortions” aimed at contributing not only to the reduction of maternal deaths, but also to prevent escalating cases of women and newborn dying from complications of unsafe abortions,” Dr Macha continues. “The project has borne substantial impact on the wider Zambian society as demand for comprehensive abortion care in many health facilities around the country has tripled. Further, more women and adolescents are now aware about the availability of safe abortion service, and also aware that the service is free in all public health facilities.”
Dr Macha called on ZAGO members not to relent in saving lives of the Zambian people.
“We have a duty to educate our people so they can enjoy and attain quality sexual reproductive health potential,” Dr Macha adds. “We shall do our part as an Association mandated with the responsibility to take care of woman and newborn health to ensure that no woman dies while giving birth.”