Enabling access to maternal health services for women and girls including access to safe abortion brings to light sensitive issues in cultures around the world and presents a diverse discussion on women’s health.
The World Health Organization describes unsafe abortion as a silent epidemic that requires an urgent public health and human rights imperative. The silent epidemic threatens the life of women and girls across the world and in Kenya as well. Despite its frequently morbid effects and high contribution to maternal mortality, unsafe abortion remains one of the most neglected global public health challenges. As a public health and women’s health rights issue, unsafe abortion is advanced by misconceptions about the procedure and misinformation about its legality, amongst other socio-cultural factors that in many countries hinder women’s and girls’ access to safe and legal abortion services.
According to the African Population Health and Research Centre, at least 2,600 women die from unsafe abortion in Kenya every year; 16 % of abortions in Kenya involve women below 20 years of age, while women between the ages of 20 and 34 account for another 73 % of abortions in Kenya. Unintended pregnancies that lead to induced abortion are approximated to be at 41%. In 2012, an estimated 464,000 induced abortions occurred in Kenya.
At the core of the discussion is the role of leaders and decision-makers in supporting women and girls’ voice, choices, agency and health through advancing and enabling access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Legal and policy contexts within countries play a great role in enabling access to health for women and girls and aids in tackling maternal mortality. Unsafe abortions as evidenced by the above statistics contributes to a third of the maternal mortality burden in Kenya placing a heavy burden on already strained health systems in the country and counties.
The above situation is reflective of the reproductive health rights situation for women and girls in Kenya, which requires policy strengthening, stronger political will and continued lobbying advocacy. One of the biggest challenges and obstacles continues to be lack of sufficient action by different levels of government ; in this light, the Kenyan government and other governments across the world need to affirm women’s and girls’ rights to health including reproductive health care. There is sufficient evidence on the need and importance of scaling up to reproductive health care efforts, and gaps within maternal and reproductive health care systems need to be urgently addressed, as illustrated by the increase in the number of unsafe abortions. The government should play a key role in educating key stakeholders on reproductive health including policy makers, healthcare providers, community members, and young people. Policy makers in Kenya should fast track implementation of the Constitution and implement progressive policies that enable access to sexual and reproductive health and rights to all. Governments across the world have the mandate of taking care of the complete emotional, physical and mental wellbeing of the people including the prerogative of providing the human and financial resources towards this. In this light, the onus is on governments to stand up for women and girls by advancing reproductive health and rights comprehensively at community and county levels.
Photos courtesy of Dandelion Kenya.