BY Phyllis Mbanje
Health facilities in Zimbabwe continue to face severe shortages of post-abortion care drugs, which could see maternal deaths increasing.
Zimbabwe is among countries with high maternal mortality ratios (MMR), estimated at 651 maternal deaths per 100 000 live births.
Since last year, most public health facilities that are mandated to offer post-abortion care have been experiencing a shortage of drugs like misoprostol, which is a critical drug in the procedure.
This is despite efforts by the Health ministry to increase access to and improve post-abortion care in order to reduce maternal mortality.
Responding to concerns on the shortage, the director for the family health department in the Health and Child Care ministry, Bernard Madzima, said the life-saving drugs should be readily available in the public sector.
“Post-abortal care includes use of drugs or taking the woman for a surgical procedure called manual vacuum aspiration. Both methods are effective in the absence of the other method,” he said.
Although abortion laws are still restrictive, except for extenuating circumstances, like for rape victims who fall pregnant, or in cases where the mother’s life is threatened or the baby is likely to be born with severe physical or mental deformity.
Post-abortion care services are offered for free at all public hospitals.
“Unsafe abortions and unsafe post-abortion situations definitely lead to the possibility of death from infections or bleeding,” Madzima said.
Health lecturer Tsungai Chipato, from the University of Zimbabwe’s obstetrics and gynaecology department, said a research they had conducted indicated that half the number of women who needed post-abortal care were not getting it, raising fears that many would opt for unorthodox ways of completing the process on their own.
Speaking on expanding the termination of pregnancy to include other groups of women, Madzima said the deliberations, often emotive, were continuing.
“Discussions on legalising abortion have been ongoing in the civic society. Currently, our law (Termination of Pregnancy Act 1977) allows abortion in defined circumstances,” he said.
Meanwhile, Women’s Action Group (WAG) is raising awareness for women to access post-bortion care services at health institutions.
The organisation is also sensitising communities on the Termination of Pregnancy Act to ensure that women and girls exercise their right to reproductive health.
WAG has engaged policymakers to start the discussion on abortion issues around health services and the law.