18 November 2018

Kenya: Board Orders Marie Stopes to Stop Offering Abortion Services

Photo: ashraf hendricks/Ground Up
Marie Stopes clinics provide many reproductive health services, including abortion.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB) has ordered reproductive services provider Marie Stopes to stop offering any form of abortion services.

In what signals an end to the organisation's positioning as the go-to facility for women with unwanted pregnancies, Marie Stopes has further been ordered to pull down advertisements that are deemed to be against the rules of medical advertising from its website and other mediums.

The organisation has been pushing, through radio and social media platforms, messages about the "confidential" assistance it gives to pregnant women in distress.

A KMPDB preliminary inquiry committee said in a letter to Marie Stopes that it was acting on complaints from the public.

Complainants include Ms Ann Kioko, the campaign manager at CitizenGo Africa and Dr Ezekiel Mutua, the chief executive officer of the Kenya Film Classification Board.

ORDERS

"Marie Stopes Kenya is hereby directed to immediately cease and desist offering any form of abortion services in all its facilities within the republic," states the committee in a set of orders issued on Wednesday.

On the issue of advertising, the committee said Marie Stopes should ensure that any future promotions conform with the advertising rules of the medical practitioners.

For 60 days starting Wednesday, Marie Stopes has to file a weekly report for all services rendered in its facilities.

Operations of Marie Stopes have sparked controversy over the years. Late last year, the non-governmental organisation with a presence in 37 countries across the world was in the eye of a storm for giving contraceptives to schoolgirls in Kitui County.

Contacted by the Nation amid the controversy, the organisation's country director, Ms Dana Tilson, said the abortion services they were offering are in conformity with the Constitution.

"Marie Stopes Kenya offers pregnancy crisis counselling and post-abortion care with the aim of saving the woman and promoting positive health outcomes," she said.

QUACK DOCTORS

On social media Saturday, the debate raged on whether KMPDB's order against Marie Stopes will give more room to quack doctors conducting unsafe abortions.

Experts have warned of huge health implications for women who procure abortion at backdoor clinics as there is a risk of losing their uteruses or death.

Dr John Ongech, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician at Kenyatta National Hospital, said many girls are not aware of the impacts of unsafe abortion.

"It is better to carry a child to term and give birth rather than having an unsafe abortion which will later have so many health implications," he warned.

Dr Ongech warned young women from taking concoctions and visiting quacks to procure abortions.

When asked whether abortion should be legalised for the girls to have safe abortions or to reduce the number of unsafe abortions, Dr Ongech said the matter is beyond the medics and lies wiith the policymakers.

MARRIED WOMEN

And according to Dr Edward Sang, also an obstetrician and gynaecologist based at Nairobi's MP Shah Hospital, abortions don't only happen among the younger or unmarried women.

He cited a case where a very sick married woman was brought to hospital by her husband.

It is only after she died, he said, that doctors realised that she had procured an abortion.

"She developed a complication from a botched abortion and a CT scan revealed a huge hole, literally, in her uterus. Her baby was in pieces," narrated Dr Sang.

In interviews from various women, the Sunday Nation learnt that the girls are visiting clinics because abortion is illegal and thus they fear being stigmatised in case they seek services at public hospitals. But our enquiries led us to the discovery that some of the public hospitals conduct abortions but behind closed doors.

A lady, who asked us not to reveal her name due to the sensitivity of the subject, said she procured an abortion in a remote clinic for fear of stigma.

At the clinic, she was given several concoctions and within four hours, she was bleeding heavily.

Thereafter, she was given some medication to stop the bleeding.

UNABLE TO CONCEIVE

She went home a happy woman because she had got rid of the pregnancy. But after four years, the worst hit her: She was unable to conceive.

Her uterus had been tampered with.

Nairobi resident Tracy (not her real name), also has nothing good to report on abortion: "The procedure, which remotely resembles a pap smear but in its crudest, raw form, is not for the faint-hearted. Without the use of anaesthesia, one feels every poke as the 'doctor' tries to extract the foetus," she said.

"The scariest part is when he tells you that no matter how much pain you feel, you should not move a muscle otherwise you risk your womb getting punctured."

Over 2,600 women die annually from unsafe abortions, which means seven deaths a day. Kenya has the highest number of deaths compared with other East African nations, according to a study done by the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Health ministry.

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