Study finds married women in Malawi using unsafe abortion methods

The 2015 General Assessment Study on the Magnitude of Unsafe Abortion has revealed that most married women in Malawi who have had an abortion have had unsafe abortions. This study, by the Health Task Force, Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA), was released during a sensitization campaign on the current Termination of Pregnancy draft bill, held with health workers including nurses, clinicians, midwifes among others situated at Bwaira Hospital in the capital Lilongwe.The report, entitled, “Addressing Unsafe Abortion in Malawi”, aimed at exploring the socio-demographic characteristics of women who seek abortion services, the incidence and types of complications as a result of unsafe abortions and the incidence of induced abortions. The research revealed that there are over 100,000 induced abortions annually, 17% of maternal mortality is due to unsafe abortion, and over 33,000 women are treated annually for abortion complications in health facilities. It also found that 80% of women who had an unsafe abortion were married and aged 20-25 years old. The report gave the example of Bwaila Hospital, in which, of all admissions to the gynaecology ward in 2015 (2,599), 91% (2,386) were for unsafe abortion complications.It further notes that harmful objects and substances ‒ including alligators [sic], pepper, bleach (JIK), chalk, alum, cassava plant, Bahaman grass and quinine ‒ were all used for abortion, and in extreme situations resulted in terrible morbidities, such as a putrefied uterus that required removal and intestines sticking out from the woman’s vagina.Flemmings Nkhandwe, COPUA Health Taskforce Chairperson, observed that there is low uptake of contraception among married women, who end up with unintended pregnancies. “Most unsafe abortions are done on social and economic ground, not necessary medical, as the current bill under draft stipulates. Cases of rape, incest, defilement aren’t many in Malawi to warrant safe abortion. Those opting for unsafe abortions are doing it willingly and on their own. It means that the law is missing the right target in its formulation. This is the reason we are calling the redrafting the bill to look into this issue before it’s taken to Parliament”, appeals Nkhandwe.COPUA’s Health Task Force is on a countrywide sensitization tour for public health workers on the current abortion bill, aiming to solicit views for input before it reaches the Parliament. At this writing, some 300 health workers have been reached by them in Lilongwe (Bwaira) Salima, Mzuzu, Karonga Zomba, Queens Hospital, and Dedza district, among others.