Stories by Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
At least 18 out of every 1 000 women in Zimbabwe induced abortions in 2016 alone. The majority of these were adolescents and married women, results of a study released by a group of local and foreign researchers in Harare on Thursday have revealed.
Presenting the study findings, lead investigator Professor Tsungai Chipato from the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences Clinical Trials Research Centre said a total of 66 800 abortions occurred in Zimbabwe during the period under review.
He said four in 10 women who had clandestine abortions in 2016 experienced complications, such as haemorrhage and infections, which required medical treatment.
Only half of women who needed treatment received it.
Prof Chipato said the study revealed that Mashonaland provinces and Harare had the highest rates, accounting for 21 abortions per every 1 000 women.
He said Manicaland and Masvingo provinces reported the lowest rates, accounting for 12 abortions per 1 000 women.
These statistics, which are the first comprehensive estimate of the incidence of abortion and post-abortion care in the country, also show that Zimbabwe’s abortion rates are low compared to other countries in the region such as Zambia and South Africa.
Prof Chipato attributed the low abortion rate to Zimbabwe’s successful family planning programme.
“Zimbabwe’s low abortion rate is likely a result of successful family planning programmes and the high rate of modern contraceptive use,” he said. “Effective contraception helps women and couples avoid unintended pregnancy, which is the most common reason for abortion.”
Given these findings, the researchers recommended a relaxation of the legal restrictions on abortion in Zimbabwe, and increasing awareness among health providers and the public about when it is legal to obtain an abortion under the current law.
In Zimbabwe, abortion is legally permitted under limited circumstances, especially when the pregnant woman’s life is in danger or in cases of rape, incest or foetal impairment.
The researchers recommended expansion of post-abortion care services and continued investment in family planning.
Responding to the study results, family health director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Bernard Madzima said they provided a good starting point for discussions on safe abortion.
He said there was need to promote safe abortion because a significant number of women were dying due to unsafe abortions.
“Abortion contributes about 20 percent of maternal mortality in Zimbabwe,” said Dr Madzima. “We have both high deaths and high morbidity. This study will, therefore, help us to start the dialogue.”
Women’s Action Group executive director Ms Edna Masiyiwa said even though it was illegal to abort in Zimbabwe, women still did it.
She said in that regard, WAG, together with other stakeholders will use the study results to advocate for review of legislation, as well as make women aware of circumstances under which they were allowed to abort.