New Telegraph

Unsafe Abortion: WARDC, Others Begin Advacacy To Curb Maternal Deaths

As part of ongoing efforts to get the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo Olu to restore for effective operations in Lagos, the suspended Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications, a nonprofit organisation, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), has lead a coalition of 150 women’s groups, and civil society organisations (CSOs) on an advocacy visit to the Lagos State Ministry of Health.

Among organisations that are seeking the recall of the Guideline are the Nigeria Association of the Blind, the Association for Intellec- tual & Developmental disabilities, Nasrul‐Lahi‐il Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT), Ogbonge Women Farmers Multipupose Co- operative, Access to Learning and School Initiative (ATLAS), Dwarf Association, Deaf Women Associ tion of Nigeria and Women Liberation and Transformation Group.

Others are: the Network of Reproductive Health Journalists (NRHJN), Foundation for Resilient Empowerment and Development Gender Care Initiative, Leadership Empowerment and Development Innovation Initiative of Nigeria, Human Foundation For Peace and Development (HUFFPED), among others.

The advocates headed by the Founding Director of WARDC, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, during the recent visit to the Lagos State Ministry of Health, delivered a letter of demand to the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi in which the group in addition to calling for the recall of the suspended Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indication, urged the Lagos State Government to make provision for legal termination of pregnancy in cases of incest, rape and sexual and gender based violence (SGBV).

The Director, Family Health, Dr. Folashade Oludara received the advocacy letter for transmission to the state commissioner for health, Prof. Akin Abayomi. As part of strategy to ensure the success of the campaign, the coalition has launched a signature campaign in which more Nigerians are encouraged to sign up, calling for the restoration of the Guideline.

A minimum of 2,000 signatures are expected to be gathered within the next two days, while a maximum of 5,000 to 10,000 are expected to help drive the campaign. Similarly, the group has equally begun a ‘Pink Movement’ to further convince the Lagos State Government to do the needful reinstating the Guideline.

The ‘Pink Movement’ is scheduled for launch on March 6 ahead of 2024 March 8 International Women Day, to encourage more Nigerians to add their voices to the campaign, added Akiyode-Afolabi.

Recall that the Guidelines which is a manual launched on June 29, 2022 for use by medical workers was suspended by Governor Babajide Sanwoolu on July 8, 2022 after a protest led by some religious and cultural groups.

Unsafe abortion remains a significant contributor to maternal deaths in Nigeria, constituting 10 per cent of the global maternal death rate and standing as the second leading cause of maternal mortality in the country.

Akiyode-Afolabi said, “We are deeply concerned about the neglect of this preventable issue due to pro- visions in Nigeria’s abortion laws, which are yet to be reformed to align with international commitments on women’s reproductive rights”.

In 2017 alone, 212,000 women out of an estimated two million annually who had abortions sought treatment for complications, while 285,000 did not receive the necessary care for the severe health consequences they faced.

This underscores the urgency to address the situation, especially in the light of Nigeria’s commitment to achieving the 2030 Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), targeting universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services.

The suspended 40-page policy document titled ‘Lagos State Guidelines on Safe Termination of Pregnancy for Legal Indications’ is expected to standardise and build capacity for medical professionals, saving lives of pregnant women when continuation poses a danger to their lives and physical health.

It aligns with existing laws and domesticates the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act, Section 38, supporting victims of rape and sexual violence. The Guideline created an opportunity to reduce maternal mortality in line with existing laws.

The guidelines acknowledge legal reasons for safe termination of pregnancy, including obstetrics and gynaecological conditions, heart and vascular diseases, kidney diseases, cancers, blood diseases, psychiatric and other mental disorders, and other conditions.

In other words, when a pregnancy poses threat to the life of the woman, the safe termination of such pregnancy is allowed by the Guidelines. However, Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi said the denial of safe abortion care to survivors of rape not only violates the right to health and privacy but also may infringe upon the prohibition of ill-treatment.

“As a nation bound by the provisions of the Maputo Protocol, which guarantees women’s right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, Nigeria must take all appropriate measures to protect reproductive rights, authorising medical abortion in specific cases.”

The Lagos State Guidelines detail safe therapeutic abortion methods, including both medical and surgical procedures. The pre- and post-procedure care stipulations ensure the identification and address of complications, achieving the goal of reducing repeated unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions.

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