A RETIRED midwife on the Copperbelt has expressed concern over the alleged mushrooming of private surgery clinics that are offering unsafe abortions in various townships.
Elizabeth Mvula of Kitwe said this in an interview prior to the recently commemoration of the International Midwives Day. Ms Mvula warned that the country was sitting on a time bomb due to various clinics that had sprung up especially in urban areas, such as Kitwe, Ndola, Lusaka and other major towns, that were offering unsafe abortions. Ms Mvula said certain foreigners had also set up surgery clinics in townships where young women, especially students in tertiary institutions, were flocking to terminate unplanned pregnancies. The abortion law in Zambia allows a woman to seek the termination of pregnancy when her own life and health may be put at risk by the pregnancy, or when the fetus may be expected to be damaged or diseased.
However, health experts believe that lack of access to safe, affordable, timely and decent abortion services, coupled with stigma associated with abortion, poses risks to women’s physical and mental well-being. “Unsafe abortions have caused unnecessary deaths in Zambia, even among women who have the right to a safe and legal abortion,” Ms Mvula said. She cautioned young women to desist from practicing unsafe abortions as they risked not having children in future or death. A survey carried out by the author revealed that some private clinics in townships such as Buchi, Kwacha East and Bulangililo in Kitwe and Kalingalinga, Mtendere and Matero in Lusaka, charged as little as K200 for some of the unsafe abortions that sometimes ended up in fatalities. Although weak in implementation, Zambia had among the most liberal abortion policies of any sub-Saharan African country. The Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) Act of 1972 permits abortion in Zambia under the following circumstances: the pregnancy causes risk to the life of the pregnant woman; risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman; risk of injury to the physical or mental health of any existing children of the woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated; or if there is substantial risk of fetal malformation.
Some schools of thought argue that with fewer than three physicians for over 10,000 people in Zambia, even when women have a willing and skilled provider, many women, especially in rural areas, are forced to seek unsafe abortions because they cannot navigate the health system and get the permissions required to have a legal abortion in time to terminate their pregnancies. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 73 million induced abortions take place worldwide each year. Six out of 10 of all unintended pregnancies, and three out of 10 of all pregnancies, end in induced abortion. WHO warns that around 45 per cent of all abortions are unsafe, of which 97 per cent take place in developing countries.
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