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Backstreet clinics where 3,000 Kenyan women die per year

HEALTH & SCIENCEBy STANDARD TEAM | Mon,Aug 17 2015 00:00:00 EAT
By STANDARD TEAM | Mon,Aug 17 2015 00:00:00 EAT

NAIROBI: Some bleed to a painful death on some dirty operating table. Others are confined to a wheelchair for life. And for the lucky ones who survive the gruesome ordeal, they are wracked with guilt.

It is an unfolding crisis that society will not openly confront, preferring to keep the secrets in the backstreet clinics that have become death chambers.

Unsafe abortions are on the rise, with backstreet operators killing about 2,600 women annually, way above those killed by cervical cancer last year. Although the health ministry has conservative figures of 2,600 deaths annually as a result of botched abortions, estimates by other independent bodies like Amnesty International suggest the deaths could be as high as 8,000.

The doctors of death are operating with impunity, away from scrutiny by regulators and exploiting the desperation of their victims who are sworn to secrecy.

And given that in some cases, the victims visit the clinics alone to conceal their mission, when things go awry and life ebbs away as they lie on bloody operating tables, they only add to the statistics.

The Ministry of Health says about half a million abortions occur in the country annually, with an estimated 375,000 procured in backstreet clinics.

Thousands more are maimed like is the case with a college student who was confined to a wheelchair after a bungled procedure in 2012.

“Apart from moving around with a wheelchair, I had to defer my studies for one year to seek medical treatment,” recalls the woman as she fought back tears. It is only after botched operations in backstreet clinics that the victims turn up at public facilities in critical condition.

And so brazen are the doctors of death that they are marketing their illicit services to teenage girls in schools. “The school system has been infiltrated by illegal abortion providers who have planted agents to direct pregnant girls to them,” Dr Joachim Osur of Amref Health Africa told The Standard.

Investigations by The Standard discovered that in every town across the country, clinics where abortions are carried out are well known. The clinics thrive on referrals, with fees ranging from Sh3,000 to Sh20,000.

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Dr John Nyamu, a gynecologist based in Nairobi, who once served a one-year jail term for allegedly carrying out illegal abortions, warns abortions will always be procured so long as expectant mothers are not comfortable with the pregnancies, especially those resulting from rape or extramarital affairs.

The Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (MPDB) has acknowledged that despite numerous raids on facilities that are believed to be carrying out illegal abortions, they have not yielded evidence.

The secrecy and conspiracy involved has made it difficult to smash the illicit trade. MPDB Chief Executive Officer Daniel Yumbya acknowledged that in the board’s history, no doctor has ever been referred for providing illegal abortion services.

And with authorities groping in the dark, a highly sophisticated network of illicit but life-taking abortion services thrives across the country, oiled by an enviable referral system involving schoolgirls, their mothers and grandmothers, teachers, policemen, brokers, midwives, herbalists and health workers.

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