The rights to sexual and reproductive health are human rights, …
September 28 marks International Safe Abortion Day and calls on countries to end all laws and policies restricting the right to safe abortion. (Photo: safeabortionwomensright.org/Wikipedia)
Reproductive health rights activists and specialists celebrated International Safe Abortion Day by highlighting the subtle ways in which abortion rights are thwarted and the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on reproductive health rights.
Tuesday, International Safe Abortion Day, a panel discussion was held between Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health; Professor Eddie Mhlanga, obstetrician, gynecologist and sexual and reproductive health rights activist; and Caroline Mbi-Njifor, the outgoing director of nonprofit reproductive health services Ipas.
Panelists highlighted bureaucratic blockages that can stifle access to abortion services and the impact of Covid-19 on reproductive health rights.
Mofokeng said people should demand to know the spending trends on products and equipment for safe abortions, and that more vigilance was needed on the many subtle means used to frustrate people seeking safe abortions, such as that the unavailability of the equipment.
“The fact that we’re still discussing political will on abortion in 2021 means people just don’t care,” Mofokeng said.
She said people who needed an abortion and were turned away by reluctant or stigmatized health care providers while seeking abortion services were less likely to return and seek the service.
She conceded that she understood why it was sometimes necessary to resort to the courts to force the government to provide abortion services due to its lack of prioritization of these services, despite being legal.
She said health services should view healthcare as a human right, and undergraduate medical education programs should incorporate human rights so that graduates understand their roles and responsibilities accordingly when providing care. health care.
Mhlanga explained how the manual vacuum suction (MVA) procedure worked for safe abortions. MVA is a minor surgical procedure using a hand-held device that uses gentle suction to remove the contents of a uterus. It is safe to use on pregnancies up to 12-14 weeks.
“Abortion is not something you can plan and decide in six months; it is an emergency, it is life saving, but if it is not done correctly it can be life threatening, ”Mhlanga repeated.
He said sex education is a necessity and some health professionals don’t even know how contraceptives work.
Mhlanga revealed that South Africa is experiencing a shortage of contraceptives, “because somebody in the government didn’t buy the contraceptives because women’s health is not important, because women don’t. of importance ”.
Mbi-Njifor said she recognizes how difficult the past few months have been because of Covid-19 on access to safe abortion, even in South Africa where access to abortion is legal.
She said that even though abortions were declared an essential service during the lockdown, challenges remained such as transport restrictions and abortion sites converted to Covid-19 stations. The repercussions were evident in the number of girls as young as 10 who were pregnant.
Mbi-Njifor said some abortion services could be performed by community health workers because there are not enough doctors and clinicians resulting in unnecessary deaths of people.
Discussing the impact of Covid-19 on women and girls, Mbi-Njifor said: “We know that gender-based violence has been exacerbated to a level requiring a national response, an increase in teenage pregnancies where nearly 28,000 were pregnant, and an increased burden of care.
She pointed out that Covid-19 had increased the lack of access to abortion and safe contraception, and that there had also been an increase in maternal mortality, which had previously been declining.
During Covid-19, mental health had become even more problematic. “Imagine the mental stress of [having] an unwanted baby, ”Mbi-Njifor said.
She stressed that the national health insurance plan needs to be better explored and tested, “imperfect as it is”, as it could be a gateway to equity within our health system.
“After all, what worked? I access private health care as a privileged one, but even there I am still not satisfied. So what has really worked in South Africa? ” she asked.
“How do we start to address sexual and reproductive health rights in a sustainable way if we lack basic skills in primary health care in rural areas? “
She said Covid-19 has shown that safe and accessible health services are not a privilege and if they had been readily available before the pandemic they could have helped us respond better to them.
Mbi-Njifor also stressed that “women and girls are not homogeneous in nature; yes, we have the same parts of the body but our needs are not always the same. I think politicians and those of us in politics need to seriously question this. ” SM / MC