afrol.com / AENS, 19 January - Almost half the women admitted to a Malawi gynaecology ward in one year were treated for botched back street abortions, according to a United Nations Population Fund report released this week. The report says that of 4 700 women admitted at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre in 1994, 2 500 had abortions on the streets.
- Abortion is the most common reason for admission to gynaecological wards at Malawi’s major hospitals, the report reads. It says about 25 percent of back street abortion patients are teenagers under 19. Up to 30 percent of the women die of severe bleeding and postnatal sepsis.
The report says the situation is most likely worse today, in a country where abortion is illegal. It says teenagers desperate to get rid of unwanted pregnancies often try to induce a miscarriage by taking the anti-malaria drug, quinine, but instead die of an overdose.
Others go to abortionists who are known to use objects like wire coat hangers to remove the foetus. Secretary for Health Richard Pendame admits illegal abortions are a "big problem".
- What we see in the hospital is simply a tip in the iceberg. The situation is really bad. We are losing a lot of girls, says Pendame.
Police Spokesman Oliver Soko says women permanently damaged during illegal abortions are too afraid to report the case for fear of prosecution. Families of women who die after an abortion, are also afraid to go the police.
- As abortion is illegal everyone fears to report it. People know that abortion is a serious
Last month, the police arrested a University of Malawi student who aborted a baby and hid it in a travelling bag while looking for somewhere to throw it away. "We arrested her and she is going to appear in court so that justice takes its course," says Soko.
Pendame says if abortion is legalised, hospitals would be flooded by desperate women, which would put a strain on hospital staff and medical equipment.
By Brian Ligomeka, African Eye News Service (AENS)