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Study: Kenya, Uganda have highest number of unsafe abortions

By Gatonye Gathura

Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya and Uganda have earned the dubious distinction of achieving the highest number of backstreet abortions in the world with almost half a million women, including ten-year-olds, exposed to the vice.

The two countries are however true to trends in East Africa with the region leading the rest of the world in the procurement of unsafe abortions, according to data covering the last decade as well as last year.

While the global and African averages show that out of 1,000 pregnant women 28 will go for a risky abortion, for East Africa this figure jumps to 39 and for Kenya it gallops to 48 only to be edged out by Uganda where the figure was 54 in 2003.

Gender inequality

The study released in Nairobi yesterday by Dr Francis Kimani, the Director of Medical Services, does not specifically explain these high rates of abortion in East Africa compared to the rest of the world but suggests a number of factors including gender inequality, stigma, culture and poverty.

Data presented in the report indicate the number of women seeking backstreet abortions in Kenya is more than twice the comparative figures in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Malawi.

“This report is a wake-up call on the reality of unsafe abortions in Kenya and the need to urgently find a lasting solution to this preventable cause of maternal morbidity and mortality,” said Dr Kimani.

But a look at who seeks post-abortion care in public and private hospitals, information used by researchers to capture the number of botched procedures, shows poverty as a major cause.

Majority of those seeking the clandestine operations, the study indicates, are housewives mostly in the rural areas.

Others most likely to visit backstreet operatives are divorced women, those with little education or employable skills including school children, some of them as young as ten years old.

Use of contraceptives

The 2009 national census had shocked Kenyans when it revealed that the population is growing by one million people annually but the new report indicates this would have been higher if the 465,000 possible new-borns were not aborted.

Data indicates that as much as 43 per cent of births are unwanted or mistimed, illustrating that there are still significant barriers to accessing and effectively using contraceptives in the country.

Dr Kimani said these incomplete abortions are now a big burden to a struggling health care system as well as a major contributor to maternal deaths. But unwanted pregnancies he said, can be prevented through the effective use of family planning.

The study team wants women to use the rights provided in the new Constitution to seek abortion legally in hospitals.

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