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Study: Women using crude abortion methods

Health & Science

Women are so terrified of unplanned pregnancies that they would tinker with death than give birth, a new survey in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties has revealed.

Harrowing accounts have it that women are using sharp pieces of wire, thorny tree branches and poisonous roots to poke into the uterus and force out the unborn.

“In the backstreets, they insert a piece of metal into the womb and stir the uterus. This I am told disconnects the kid from the mother and the pregnancy is done away with,” says a young woman in Trans Nzoia who participated in the survey.

“A woman used a stick to perforate the amniotic fluid of a lady at Mayanja village. She inserted the stick and rotated it. The placenta came out but the girl died,” explained another married woman living in Bungoma.

But much more feared, possibly above the accompanying pain or a live birth are some health workers said to treat such women with contempt, scorn and extreme ridicule.

School girls and even married women narrated to the researchers how terrified they are of health workers especially when they have abortion-related health issues.

The survey, published on June 5 in the current journal of the Reproductive Health Matters, had sought to understand the methods used by both married and single women to induce abortion.

“We also wanted to know whether these women are aware that the law allows them to approach health workers for assistance on such reproductive health matters,” says Sylvia Wamugi one of the researchers.

Young women reported discouragement and reluctance to go to health facilities because of what they say are rude nurses and doctors, especially if the pregnancy is out of wedlock.

“Nowadays, giving birth to five or six children can be shameful. The nurses will laugh at you asking why you do not plan your family. This can deter you from going to the clinic or hospital,” says another married woman from Bungoma.

Though the researchers depended on narratives from the women, the negative attitude by health workers towards patients is well documented and responsible for many women opting to give birth away from health facilities.

On Monday, Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia urged medics to be kind to all pregnant women and patients and treat them with care, empathy and love. By so doing, he said, the Government would contribute to a better and healthy nation.

He spoke during the launch of Sh500 million worth of equipment meant to improve service delivery in the 480 health facilities across the country.

He urged pregnant women to ensure they deliver in a health facility for their own good and safety and that of their babies.

But the arrogance, the women say, disappears very fast if the health worker is offered some money to terminate a pregnancy.

“If you want to consult a Government doctor on this issue, you do it aside and he will do it for you, to get the money,” says a woman in Trans Nzoia who participated in the survey.

The study indicates this is all done in secrecy and in case of complications, the health workers involved will quickly and vehemently denounce the woman and keep their distance.

Abortion by a qualified health worker, the women say, is the safest but unfortunately it is the most expensive, costing about Sh5,000.

But the women say you can negotiate and on hard days a health worker can take even Sh2,000 but if a woman appears wealthy, the fee can shoot to Sh10,000.

The report shows lack of money will not keep the determined women from getting their way even if it means attempting death.

The abortion market in the two counties was found to offer various options costing between Sh60 and Sh5,000. With Sh60, a woman can buy quinine from a local pharmacy.

snake antidote

Other options mentioned include detergents, tea leaves, undiluted fruit juice, metal rods or pieces of wire and overdoses of some antibiotics. Also listed are sisal juice, snake antidote and a hot stone.

Herbalists and midwives are also making a killing because they offer cheaper services. In both counties women said the most expensive herbalist charges Sh500 for an abortion while others charge as little as Sh100.

“Although the Ministry of Health has already drawn up a public Health Rights Charter to guide its workers, these women are not yet aware that they are guaranteed dignified reproductive health care at all health facilities,” says Wamugi.

The survey by a team of six medical and statistical experts from the local and global Ipas Africa Alliance says the findings should help design programmes for safe abortion.

“Barriers to seeking safe services such as high cost, perceived illegality, and fear of insults and abuse at public facilities among both age groups must be addressed,” says the report.

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