Delivering her keynote address at the dissemination of report on unsafe abortion in Sierra Leone yesterday, the First Lady Sia Nyama Koroma said that “a shift to safe, legal abortion would preserve women’s health and save their lives”.

Sia Koroma

Speaking at the Miattia conference hall in Freetown, the First Lady said that each year in Sierra Leone, thousands of women die from pregnancy-related causes, giving our beautiful country, the horrible distinction of having the fourth highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

The Consolidated Report titled ‘Unsafe Abortion in Sierra Leone: A Report of Community and Health System Assessments’ is produced by the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in collaboration with Ipas.

Mrs. Koroma added that unsafe abortion is a major contributing factor to maternal and pregnancy-related injuries and deaths in Sierra Leone, adding that because our abortions laws are restrictive and outdated, unsafe abortions are common.

The First Lady stated that “the resulting tragic loss of life is entirely preventable. Unwanted pregnancies have been identified as a significant problem in all regions of Sierra Leone, contributing to thousands of maternal deaths and injuries, infertility, poverty and orphaned children”.

She stated that the major contributors to unsafe abortion are poverty, sexual violence, girls’ desire to continue their education, extramarital pregnancies, the prohibitive costs of safe care, and abortion stigma.

Sia Nyama Koroma

The First Lady reiterated that the findings from these studies indicate that unsafe abortion takes a considerable toll on the women, families, communities and the larger health system in Sierra Leone.

The study results, she said, confirms that complications from unsafe abortion are a leading cause of maternal deaths, and affirms the urgent need to address this critical problem.

She noted that the assessments illustrate that treating women who have undergone unsafe abortion costs the public health system hundreds of thousands of US Dollars a year, adding that treatment of abortion complications is a costly clinical service that drains staff time and squanders scarce medications and supplies.

First Lady further reiterated that the rapid assessment to document the burden of treatment of abortion complications illustrates that overall, 22% of post abortion care patients come to the hospital with moderate or severe complications, a rate that was even higher (33%) in rural areas, adding that deaths from unsafe abortion make up 10% of maternal mortality.

She disclosed that the report shows that the quality of post abortion care services in our facilities is low, with virtually no post-abortion contraception available, unnecessarily long patient stays, and the use of outmoded and unsafe technologies.

She stated that each year, the Sierra Leone Government spends an estimated US $230,000 in personnel and medical supplies to treat women with abortion complications in public hospitals.

In his statement, Chairman Law Reform Commission Sub-Committee on Review of the Law relating to Termination of Pregnancy, Justice Nicolas Browne- Marke said that contrary to what most people might think, the Law as an institution, is interested in modern concepts and ideas, particularly in the area of human development and in appropriate Legislation which should lead or assist such development.

He added that in 2011, the Commission set up the Sub Committee to look into, and review the Law relating to the termination of pregnancy, with emphasis on the decriminalization of the process, so long as it is carried out in properly appointed centers, and by duly qualified persons.

In his presentation on the report methodology and results, the Director Reproductive and Child Health Programme at the Ministry of Health, Dr Samuel Kargbo said that 21.6 Million globally are affected by unsafe abortion and 98% of these occur in developing countries, adding that everyday, 90 women die from unsafe abortions in Africa. He added that in Sierra Leone, despite major gains, maternal mortality remains high and unsafe abortion is the 5th highest cause of maternal mortality.

Dr. Kargbo said that unwanted pregnancy is a significant problem and is problematic among young women, stating that unsafe abortion leads to injuries, infertility, deaths and orphanhood.

The Director recommended that the government repeals the restrictive abortion law.

Minister of Health and Sanitation I, Dr Abubakarr Fofanah, said there are a lot of problems associated with unsafe abortions, adding that these problems are many and not fictitious. “we need to do more on healthHe said education, more on fertility regulations and more on safe abortion.”

Ipas Policy Associate, Val Tucker said that Ipas is a global nongovernmental organization dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion.

She said that Ipas, “we believe that: every woman has a right to safe reproductive health choices, including safe abortion care. No woman should have to risk her life, her health, her fertility, her well-being or the well-being of her family because she lacks reproductive health care. Women everywhere must have the opportunity to determine their future, care for their families and manage their fertility”.

She thanked all her partners and the First Lady for gracing the occasion and the people that took part in the research for giving their time to support women’s health.

Statements were also made by Marie Stopes, PPASL, Parliamentarians and a short skit on unsafe abortion by Restless Development.