Complications from unsafe abortion remain high globally:  new study findings

Thursday, August 27, 2015

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Roughly seven million women were treated in the developing world for complications from unsafe abortion in 2012, according to a new study by Susheela Singh and Isaac Maddow-Zimet, researchers at the Guttmacher Institute. Not only is the number of women who experience complications very high—and preventable—but the cost for women, their families and governments to treat complications is significant.

As the researchers point out, the data are the product of two main factors:  the continued prevalence of women seeking abortion under unsafe conditions, together with the positive development of increased access to health facilities in many countries.

Still, the article cites surveys of health professionals estimating that nearly 40 percent of all women who experience complications don’t get the care they need. The authors call for improved access to safe abortion, as well as expanded postabortion care, including contraceptive counseling.

The researchers used data from 26 countries, including several national-level studies co-authored by Ipas researchers addressing complications from unsafe abortion in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and Cambodia.

The use of new measures put forward by the researchers—the rate of women treated in health facilities—is a significant step for global comparison, showing the extent to which health facilities are acceptable and utilized by women for treating complications of unsafe abortions.

All women seeking care for complications are not in the same condition when they come to the health facility. Some women wait to come in for care because they are afraid to come, or too sick, or need to travel a vast distance. The Guttmacher researchers note that the data in their analysis do not measure the severity of complications, partially because evidence is limited. Research sponsored by Ipas, cited and used in the article, is helping to build a growing body of evidence in this area, benefitting from ongoing collaboration with Guttmacher and local partners.

“We need to continue to pursue new ways to measure the suffering of the most at-risk women, including those who never reach care at all. Only a handful of studies look at the severity of complications or measure trends in severity over time at a national level,” says Tam Fetters, Ipas senior research advisor, who was acknowledged in the Guttmacher article. “We have more work to do to show policymakers the extent to which increasing availability of safe abortion care reduces injuries and saves women’s lives, while also saving costs to health systems,” she adds.

“Given the upcoming launch of the 2030 development agenda at the United Nations, these new estimates from Guttmacher are particularly timely, underscoring the need for accelerated efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies and reduce unsafe abortion globally. This important analysis further points to the need for more and better data to measure progress toward the new target of universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including abortion-related care” says Barbara Crane, Ipas executive vice president.