Africa: WHO Director-General's Opening Remarks At the Closing Event - Global Safe Abortion Dialogue

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Jade Maina, Executive Director of the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health, Kenya,

Ambassador Delphine O, Secretary-General of the Generation Equality Forum 2021,

Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

My thanks to the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the co-hosts of the dialogue, AmplifyChange, Ipas, MSI Reproductive Choices and the Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health for inviting me to speak, as you bring this important discussion to a close.

I am pleased to note that this event will feed into the Generation Equality forum which will be held in Paris later this year.

Every year around the world, 121 million women become pregnant when they did not intend to be. Sixty percent of these pregnancies ends in an abortion.

Globally, one out of every two abortions is unsafe, putting women at risk of serious complications and death.

This is a preventable tragedy.

Almost every death and injury that results from unsafe abortion could be prevented by effective contraception, the provision of safe abortion, and timely care for complications through post-abortion care.

Inequality and lack of access to basic health services lies at the root many of these issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, with 44% of countries reporting disruptions in contraceptive services, and 28% reporting disruptions in safe abortion and post-abortion care.

WHO recommends that health systems adapt innovative approaches to ensure women get the care they need during the pandemic, for example, by expanding self-care options backed up with access to medical expertise, including through telemedicine.

In the face of the current challenges, we have seen encouraging changes over the last several decades.

Currently, more than 50 countries permit their health systems to respond to a woman's request for abortion care and more than 70 countries have guidelines for post-abortion care.

WHO supports national health systems so that they can provide safe, effective contraceptive services, the post-abortion care needed to prevent and treat complications, and safe abortion care to the full extent permitted by law. WHO also maintains a Global Abortion Policies Database.

Most recently, we updated the Essential Medicines List to include the medications used for safe abortion care.

Currently we are working with more than 40 countries to help them adapt WHO guidelines to their national contexts.

I am happy to announce that WHO's consolidated technical and policy guidance on safe abortion is in the final stages of being updated with the latest evidence, and will be available later this year.

Let me leave you with three priorities.

First: we have to address the underlying inequalities and inequities in our health policies that put so many women and girls at risk.

Achieving universal health coverage built on a foundation of primary health care must include access to contraception and safe abortion care, to the full extent of the law, as well other services for sexual and reproductive health.

Second, we can only address these issues through partnership and cooperation between governments, civil society and non-state actors.

Third, we have to learn the lessons of this pandemic so that we can address the weakness in our health systems that result in women and girls losing access to essential health services during emergencies.

I thank you.

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