Annually, Over 20 Million Abortions Worldwide Are Unsafe: Experts
By Emma Price
Monday 06 November 2006
As many as 70,000 women annually succumb globally to unsafe and unhygienic abortions, health specialists revealed on Monday at a conference of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Most of the victims of unsafe abortion practices come from impoverished countries and many put their health in serious jeopardy by depending on such methods, experts felt. "Unsafe abortion is a serious public health problem for women, accounting for 13 per cent of all maternal deaths globally each year," revealed FIGO's Dorothy Shaw.
Of the 46 million abortions worldwide annually, as many as 20 million are carried out in unsafe and unsanitary condition, figures released by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate. Among the regions most susceptible to such deaths are Africa, Asia, Middle East and even Latin America. However, according to a report released by FIGO, as many as 75 per cent of the 500,000 pregnancy-related deaths annually can be prevented if better healthcare is made accessible to women in these regions.
"The global record in preventing these deaths is a disaster. One woman somewhere in the world dies every minute from a cause related to pregnancy and childbirth, mostly in developing countries," Shaw said at the conference, which won attendance from over 8,000 natal experts from 130 countries.
One of the biggest causes of maternal deaths is hemorrhage after childbirth that occurs in 20 per cent of all childbirths but proves to be fatal to women who aren't healthy enough to overcome it. It doesn't help that many women are forced to undergo childbirth in hospitals that are not equipped to dispense emergency healthcare, the report said.
In many cases, especially in underdeveloped or developing countries, such procedures are carried out illegally by unqualified people due to stringent laws that do not allow legal medical termination of unwanted pregnancies. Better access to contraception, especially those like the morning-after pill, could go a long way in preventing such unwanted pregnancies, the report noted.
Meanwhile, a study by University of North Carolina researcher David Grimes analyzed WHO data and found that besides death, hundreds of thousands of women face serious complications due to unsafe abortions. "The complications are both short- and long-term. In the short run, infection is a very common outcome as is trauma to the genital tract, for example perforations of the uterus, perforation of the cervix and so forth. These kinds of infections are an important cause of infertility in developing countries," Grimes said.
The key, according to the researchers, might lie in making safe abortions accessible to women. "When South Africa recently liberalized access to abortion, the mortality rates from unsafe abortion in South Africa dropped 90 per cent almost overnight," he said.
The regions causing the maximum concern are South-Central Asia and Africa, where unsafe abortions constitute as many as 39 per cent and 23 per cent of all abortions, WHO data reveals. Most of these are preventable, asserts Elizabeth Maguire of IPAS, a women's health organization based in the United States. "We are talking about treatment and surgery that is widely available. Unsafe abortion is entirely preventable. Unfortunately, the majority of the women who are deprived of safe abortion care come from very poor parts of the world. Women have to risk their lives because of this," she said.
The conference will run for five days at the Malaysian capital.