African health experts to meet in Ghana for rare discussion of unsafe abortion

Monday, November 8, 2010

African health experts to meet in Ghana for rare discussion of unsafe abortionThe international conference Keeping Our Promise: Addressing Unsafe Abortion in Africa is currently being held in Accra, Ghana.

On 8 November, His Excellency President John Atta Mills will welcome a panel of eminent figures in Accra to Keeping Our Promise: Addressing Unsafe Abortion in Africa, an international conference to be held at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons (GCPS). The meeting will bring together health experts, policymakers and practitioners from around the region to partake in a rare discussion of a much-neglected issue affecting the health of African women: unsafe abortion.

The conference will be opened by Minister of Health Hon. Dr. Benjamin Kumbour; Dr. Charles Fleischer-Djoleto of the World Health Organization; His Excellency Dr. Richard B. Turkson, Ghana High Commissioner to Canada (conference chair).; and Dr. Fred Sai. Aissatou Gueye of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, will give the keynote address. Ambassador Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah, Ipas vice president for Africa and former Minister of Health of Ghana will welcome conference participants on behalf of conference sponsors.

The international NGO Ipas is sponsoring the meeting, in collaboration with the Ghana Ministry of Health, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (better known as FEMNET), the International Planned Parenthood Federation Africa Regional Office and Marie Stopes International.

Dr. Brookman-Amissah sees the meeting as an opportunity to take stock of the progress made in addressing unsafe abortion. “We have made great achievements towards saving women’s lives in the past several years. This gathering will work to find solutions to our remaining challenges: we must continue to work to reduce maternal mortality in Africa. We must strive to reform archaic laws. We must trust women to make their own reproductive choices for themselves, their families and their communities.”  

The conference will focus on unsafe abortion as a critical issue for reproductive health and rights in Africa and for achieving the Millennium Development Goal Five to reduce maternal mortality. Over 250 health-care providers, advocates, parliamentarians, women’s groups, community members and allied agencies from across the region will gather to share best practices and lessons learned, and shape an agenda for action.

Dr. Turkson, who will chair the conference, notes that it is entirely appropriate that the meeting occurs in Ghana: “In 1985, long before the African Union adopted the Maputo Protocol and Plan of Action, Ghana amended its archaic penal code to considerably expand the scope of abortion permissible under the law.  What now remains is to apply these rules vigorously to achieve our common objective, access by our women to safe, legal abortions.”

Eliminating unsafe abortion in Africa is imperative to fulfill the objectives of the Maputo Plan of Action (The African Union Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) and the Maputo Protocol (the Protocol on the Rights of African Women contained within the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights), as well as the Millennium Development Goals and other global and regional commitments. This regional conference will bolster the momentum needed to achieve these goals.

Unsafe abortion is a global health problem that has a disproportionate impact on the women, particularly young women, of Africa:

• More than half of the 67,500 global deaths from unsafe abortion occur in Africa.
• More than half of the women who die from unsafe abortion in Africa are younger than 25.
• Of the five million women globally who are hospitalized with complications from unsafe abortion every year, more than one million are from Africa.

The conference agenda will include:

• A review of regional and national progress in addressing unsafe abortion (such as the impact of legal reform in Ethiopia, and legal implementation in Ghana).
• Lessons from research and experience that can improve safe abortion care, postabortion care and related reproductive health care, such as preventing unwanted pregnancy.
• Discussion of an agenda for action for the African region and ways to improve collaboration among governments, NGOs and other stakeholders.