Launching of Aunty Jane Hotline in Malawi

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Aunty Jane Hotline has been launched in Malawi. Centre for Girls and Interaction (CEGI) organized the launching at Mimosa Court Hotel in Mzuzu northern of Malawi.

Aunty Jane Hotline is an Interactive Voice Response system, meaning women and girls can access information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English and Chichewa. Aunty Jane Hotline gives information on PPH prevention, contraception, unwanted pregnancy and abortion, among other sexual and reproductive health topics. Because abortion is a very stigmatized topic, the launch of this public hotline is an important step forward. Callers can leave a message or sms and get a call back from a trained operator if they have specific questions or want to speak with someone

0884 773 300  or text 0884 773 310

www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/04/18/in-malawi-banda’s-succession-to-presidency-could-save-millions-women’s-lives

by Jessica Mack

April 24, 2012 – 9:55am

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika died of a heart attack suddenly this month, enabling Vice President Joyce Banda to succeed the helm. This will almost certainly change – and perhaps save – the lives of millions of Malawian women.

Banda, the country’s first female Vice President and leader of the opposition party, had been embroiled in a political struggle for months as Bingu had tried to remove her. Bingu’s move to edge her out was part of his tightening grip overall, foreshadowing what could have been another stubborn and potentially bloody transfer of power after 2014 elections, and almost certainly not to Banda.

With all due respect to the late Bingu, his death opened a rare window for reform Malawi, and golden opportunity – especially for Malawi’s women. Joyce Banda is a widely-respected and heralded champion for women’s rights and health, and has never been shy to speak her mind about it.

Banda is Southern Africa’s first female head of state, and the continent’s second (after Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf). Isobel Coleman at the Center for Foreign Relations recently called her “a remarkable person who despite the odds, just might be able to put Malawi on a positive path,” as compared to her “disaster” of a predecessor. Banda left an abusive marriage as a young mother of three, and went on to found several small businesses and organizations for women before being elected to Parliament in 1999.

She is a woman of both voice and action. Almost immediately upon taking office, she issued a directive to the Ministry of Health to appoint two OB/GYN specialists to the Ethel Mutharika Maternity Hospital to support deliveries there. In a recent press conference, she said she would do anything in her capacity to ensure that the country’s maternal mortality rate is reduced. Banda herself suffered excessive bleeding after giving birth, and nearly lost her life. Though the United Nations estimates that maternal mortality in Malawi was nearly halved between 1998 and 2008, still 3,000 women a year die needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. Just 42 percent of married women report modern contraceptive use.

Cultural taboos around women’s sexual and reproductive health, as well as the sheer inaccessibility of services define reality for many Malawian women. A lack of skilled personnel, whether doctors, midwives, or community health workers, to help women deliver safely is also a major factor in maternal deaths. Unsafe abortion is likely a major contributor as well. Abortion in Malawi is prohibited entirely, except to save a woman’s life, and even then spousal permission is required. Perhaps this is something Banda might be willing to step up and address. Systemic devaluation of women’s lives is a problem too, prompting Banda to single out village chiefs as gatekeepers for maternal health in the largely rural nation.

“They are the custodians of our culture and tradition. If you don’t include those chiefs, if you don’t integrate them, you can’t win in the area of maternal health.”

The year 2015 is the deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight major targets to improving the lives and health of the world’s poorest. A recent report by the Malawian Government says the country is on-track to meet five of the eight goals, though MDG 5 – to improve maternal health – is not one of them. African leaders are under increasing pressure from their constituents and donors to turn things around for women in their countries and there are few glimmers of hope. Banda could make huge waves on this issue in just a short while.

Banda is not only an advocate for women’s health, but economic empowerment too. In 1997, she won the Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger. Landlocked Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its economy relies heavily on agriculture, and women farmers form the engine that runs it. Banda has noted that women in Malawi are conspicuously absent when it comes to economic decision-making, and that it is critical to put more of the country’s money in the hands of its mothers. If anyone can do that, it looks like she can.

Banda is also a staunch supporter of girls’ education. Last year, in a Q&A with the Global Post, she told the story of a childhood friend forced to leave high school after the $12 school fees became too high.

“I went on to go to college and I became the vice president of Malawi. She is still where she was 30 years ago. The vicious cycle of poverty kept her there and took away her options. I made up my mind … whatever would happen in my life, I would try to send girls to schools.”

Such clarity of vision forward and backward is rare in a leader, but seems to be Banda’s defining trait.

She has already distinguished herself as a committed and articulate leader on women’s health and rights. Now with the reigns, in a historic twist of events, she can finally demonstrate what that vision, realized, can do for women.

Follow Jessica Mack on Twitter, @fleetwoodjmack

www.thinkafricapress.com/malawi/battle-legalise-abortion

In spite of new findings, the government continues to deliberate on the best plan of action.

Article | 3 April 2012 – 11:17am | By Lameck Masina

Blantyre, Malawi:

Officially illegal, but by no means uncommon, abortion is a controversial topic in Malawi.

Abortion is outlawed except in cases where pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. Section 149 of Malawi’s penal code condemns any person who administers an abortion to 14 years imprisonment, while Section 156 states that any woman who solicits an abortion is liable to 7 years in prison.

Despite this, abortions still occur, usually performed by untrained personnel.

A report conducted by Malawi’s Ministry of Health in conjunction with Ipas, a reproductive rights organisation headquartered in the US, found that 70,000 women had an illegal abortion in 2009 alone. It further showed that about 17% of maternal deaths in Malawi are the result of unsafe abortions.

The study, therefore, asked government to liberalise abortion laws so that a pregnant woman would have access to trained a medical practitioner if “she has ill health and needs an abortion and if the pregnancy is as a result of sexual coercion or if indeed the woman really feels that she cannot carry on with the pregnancy due to economic reasons”.

A money-saving initiative

The study also showed that Malawi is spending a significant amount of money on treating post-abortion complications. This was reiterated by the 2012 preliminary report on ‘Health System Costs of Providing Post Abortion Care in Malawi’, which estimates that basic post-abortion care costs around $45.

The report states, “Public health facilities in Malawi that provide post-abortion care spend approximately $1.06 million annually to treat women with complications of unsafe abortion”. It continues: “If safe abortion services were made available to women, approximately $435,000 would become available in public health care facilities each year to divert to other health care needs”.

A right for all

Women’s rights campaigners are also sounding the call to change the law with local and international rights organisations such as Women and Law in Southern Africa Research Trust WILSA-Malawi, the Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion COPUA, and Ipas all taking part.

Seode White, National Coordinator for WILSA-Malawi, explained to Think Africa Press that their fight is largely for the rights of poor, rural girls and women who do not have money to seek safe abortion services from private hospitals.

“Despite being illegal, the fact is that women from urban areas seek abortion in private health clinics where they get safe abortions while those poor girls in rural areas go to a backstreet clinic and get a very poor service. Some of them die and others end up not being able to have babies ever again,” she said.

“It’s high time Malawi take a leaf from other African countries like Zambia and South Africa where abortion is legal”.

In a sense, campaigners are simply trying to get Malawi to honour their commitment to the Maputo protocol, an agreement supporting greater reproductive rights for women.

Executive Secretary of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, Grace Malera, explained: “The Maputo protocol has an article that is subscribing to liberalisation [not only] when the pregnancy is threatening the life of the mother but as well as pregnancies that are resulting from rape and incest. In terms of the human rights, that is a right to health issue and we need to address it”.

Resistance to change

But not everyone is convinced of the need for more liberal abortion laws. David Odali, Executive Director of local human rights organisation the Umunthu Foundation, told Think Africa Press that liberalising abortion laws would be tantamount to giving people “a license to sleep around”, which would eventually lead to an increase in HIV transmission.

“If we have an open law on abortion, this would be subject to abuse because these women that are willingly getting pregnant will continue doing so knowing that once they are pregnant they have the option to end it”, he argued.

Most traditional and religious leaders in Malawi also consider abortion a sin and reject calls for its legalisation. Macdonald Kadawati, Chairman of the Public Affairs Committee, an umbrella organisation for the major faith communities in the country insisted that abortion was “not good for both the mother and the child”.

“The Bible tells us the point at which life begins…God has designed that one should be born and no one should take that life away because that is murder,” he says.

Sheikh Dinala Chabulika, National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau, claimed that Islam generally regards abortion as murder and that “in Islam, abortion is only allowed when there is proof from a medical doctor that the life of a mother will be in danger during delivery.”

Despite resistance from religious leaders, however, the Ministry of Health has previously found that unsafe abortion isrampant among religious women in the country.

Watching and waiting

Despite research findings that have highlighted the health risks and economic costs incurred due to existing laws on abortion, health authorities have remained reluctant to declare their position on the possible liberalisation of these laws.

Health ministry spokesperson Henry Chimbali, for example, maintains that the authorities are still assessing the findings before they reach a conclusion. While the government assesses and pro and anti-abortion groups debate, dangerous illegal abortions continue.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com

December 31, 2011

Medical experts say unsafe abortion is a leading cause of maternal deaths in Malawi

Lameck Masina | Blantyre, Malawi

The United States-based reproductive rights organization Ipas in collaboration with the Malawi’s Ministry of Health recently conducted the study entitled Abortion in Malawi: Results of a Study of Incidents and Magnitude of Complications Due to Unsafe Abortions.

Godfrey Kangaude was one of the researchers of Ipas. He said the study wanted to find out how many women are inducing abortions which can in turn lead to deadly complications.

“Part of the findings is that in 2009 alone 70,000 women had induced abortion,’ he said, “and we also estimated that the abortion rate is about 24 abortions per 1000 women of child bearing age. So you can see that this is a high number of induced abortions.”

However, abortion is illegal in Malawi except under circumstances where it threatens the life of a mother.

 

 

Section 149 of the country’s penal code penalizes anyone who performs an abortion to 14 years imprisonment, while any woman who solicits one can be put in jail for up to seven years.

However Kangaude said despite the penalties, many women still seek to have the procedure.

“[My] first concern is that the law despite being restrictive does not prevent women from accessing abortions,” he explained. “What just happens is that these induced abortions tend to be clandestine and unsafe (which results in deaths of many women).”

Statistics from the country’s public hospitals show that 17 percent of maternal deaths are because of complications due to unsafe abortions.

Kangaude said this means that the law does not support the reproductive health rights of the women but instead infringes the rights of these women.

“Because instead of accessing safe abortion services,” he said, “they (women) go for other services since the public health systems do not provide these safe abortions to women who need them”.

He said the danger is that most of these women develop fatal complications like hemorrhage, ruptured uterus and infertility.

The study has therefore asked government to consider liberalizing abortion laws so that all women should have access to abortion using safe methods from trained medical practitioners.

“For example,” he said, “if the woman feels that she has ill health and needs an abortion and if the pregnancy is as a result of sexual coercion or if  indeed the woman really feels that she cannot carry on with the pregnancy due to economic reasons”.

National Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau Sheikh Dinala Chabulika said it would be inhumane for Malawi to legalize the procedure.

“In Islam, he explained, “abortion is only allowed when there is proof from a medical doctor that the life of a mother will be in danger during delivery.”

Some people commenting on social networks like Twitter and Facebook say Western religious views were imposed on Africans during colonialism and do not understand why people still cling to them today.

They say it’s time for African countries with restrictive abortion laws to revisit them just as many former Western colonizers have.

African countries which have liberalized them include Zambia and South Africa.

Human rights campaigners say one of the pacts Malawi has signed, the Maputo protocol, supports greater reproductive rights for women.

Grace Malera is the Executive Secretary of the Malawi Human Rights Commission.

“The Maputo protocol has got an article that is subscribing to liberalization [not only],” he said, ” when the pregnancy is threatening the life of the mother but [also when there are pregnancies] resulting from rape and incest.  In terms of the human rights, that’s a right to health issue and we need to address it.”

But Ministry of Heath spokesman Henry Chimbali says government authorities are currently looking at the findings of the study before they take next course of action.

Monday, 12 December 2011 10:36

Patricia Nkhoma
Experts have called for the review of Malawi’s abortion laws, saying current laws are contributing towards high unsafe abortion rates and preventable deaths among resource- poor women.

This was disclosed last Wednesday at a two-day sexual reproductive health meeting held in Zomba.

Malawi Human Rights Commission Executive Secretary, Grace Malera, who is also a member of the Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortions (COPUA), observed that Malawi’s abortion laws were contradictory in that they only offer women whose lives are in danger the right to safe abortion while denying the rest similar opportunities.

“Safe abortion is supposed to be a Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) right for women, but what is happening in Malawi, in terms of women’s access to safe abortion services, contradicts this. In fact, our women are being denied their SRH rights,” Malera said.

She further said forcing women to carry pregnancy to term when their mental and social status did not permit it contradicts World Health Organisation’s guidelines as well as international protocols on women’s SRH rights as it infringed on their right to dignity.

Concurring with Malera, Ipas Policy Associate Godfrey Kangaude said current abortion laws have failed women, imploring government to review the current law and harmonise it with that trends in other countries.

He cited the case of Zambia, saying liberalisation of abortion laws in Zambia has drastically reduced cases of deaths arising from unsafe abortions.

“This is why we are calling for the review of sections 149, 150 and 151 of the Penal Code; these sections only provide for safe abortion when the woman’s life is in danger. We want them reviewed so that the circumstances under which abortion is permitted are broadened,” Kangaude said.

Kangaude added that the current environment has created fertile ground for the abuse of women’s SRH rights.

He said women are stigmatised in both the health system and their own communities, thereby giving room to untrained personnel to carry out clandestine abortions.

“This is leading to increased numbers of women dying from abortion complications,” Kangaude said.

COPUA is a coalition of medical practitioners, lawyers and media practitioners, and aims at reducing deaths arising from unsafe abortions.

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