November 09, 2010

Accra, Nov. 9, GNA – More than 250 health care providers, advocates, Parliamentarians, women’s groups, community members and allied agencies from across Africa are meeting in Accra, to share best practices and lessons and initiate an agenda for action.

The four-day conference would focus on unsafe abortion as a critical issue for reproductive health and rights in Africa, and for achieving the Millennium Development Goal Five, to reduce maternal mortality.

Opening the conference in Accra, Mr Robert Joseph Mettle-Nunoo, Deputy Minister of Health, said no woman should die of unsafe abortion when there were legal abortion services available.

He said women needed to be given a voice and choices if really Africa needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

Mr Mettle-Nunoo said women needed to be respected and the meeting was an opportunity to take stock of the progress made in addressing unsafe abortion.

IPAS, an International non-governmental organisation, the main sponsor of the conference, is collaboration with the Ministry of Health, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, African Women’s Development and Communication Network (better known as FEMNET), International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Regional Office and Marie Stopes International to organise the event.

It is under the theme “Keeping Our Promise: Addressing Unsafe Abortion in Africa”.

Mr Mettle-Nunoo noted that there were laws regarding abortion that needed to be enforced and said women should also be educated on the provision of safe abortion in certain instances.

He called for intensified training to ensure that doctors undertake quality abortion and expressed concern for the inadequate supply of contraceptives.

The Deputy Minister of Health condemned the stigmatisation of women who undertake abortion and said there should be more education on the matter.

He said “no woman wants abortion and if it requires that she does it, there is a law that backs that decision”.

More than half of the 67,500 global deaths related to unsafe abortion, occur in Africa and more than half of the women who die from unsafe abortion in Africa are younger than 25 years.

Of the five million women globally who are hospitalised with complications from unsafe abortion every year, more than one million are from Africa.

Dr Eunice Brookman-Amissah, IPAS Vice President for Africa, said “We have made great achievements towards saving women’s lives in the past several years and we must strive to reform archaic laws. We must trust women to make their own reproductive choices for themselves, their families and their communities.”

She explained that while celebrating new data indicating that globally maternal mortality was at last falling, little progress had occurred on the African continent.

Dr Brookman-Amissah said: “Obtaining real political commitment to address unsafe abortion remains very hard but this needs to happen if we are to eliminate this totally preventable cause of maternal deaths in our countries.

“When leaders fail to implement known, affordable solutions to this entirely preventable problem, we can only conclude that they do not sufficiently value the women and girls whose lives are at stake”.

The IPAS Vice President said for the achievement of MDG5 and to protect African women and girls, it was essential that “we take the next step in effectively addressing unsafe abortion, including improving women’s access to safe abortion. And the time for that is NOW –before many more women die”.

Dr Brookman-Amissah called for strategies to overcome the iniquities and inequities that were restrictive to abortion laws and take the moral decision to no longer deny women access to services that we had the knowledge and the technologies to provide.

Dr Richard Turkson, Ghana’s High Commissioner to Canada, noted that the stigma surrounding abortion was still very strong but no longer absolute and there was the need now to say the word “abortion” in many settings where it previously was unthinkable.

Women’s right to sexual and reproductive health, including the right to safe legally-permitted abortion, he said was a basic human right that should be enjoyed by all women and like every human right, this should translate into the necessary social, economic and cultural conditions and facilities under which their legitimate aspirations and dignity might be fully realised.

The agenda of the conference would include; a review of regional and national progress in addressing unsafe abortion, lessons from research and experience that could improve safe abortion care, post abortion care and related reproductive health care, such as preventing unwanted pregnancy, discussion of an agenda for action for the African region and ways to improve collaboration among governments, NGOs and other stakeholders.