Namibia: 7,000 Unsafe Abortions in a Year

20 October 2021

A medical professional with an interest in obstetrics and gynaecology has revealed 7 000 unsafe abortions were recorded in one year, saying it is now a severe public health problem, as unskilled people without the knowledge of human anatomy conduct these procedures.

Dr David Emvula said the termination of pregnancy is something medical experts deal with every day, and that incomplete miscarriages result in deaths.

"From 1 April 2018 to March 2021, 14 Namibian women died as a result of abortive complications. We are losing women due to complications relating to termination of pregnancies," informed Emvula, adding that in 2017, unsafe termination of pregnancies reached 7 000.

The gynaecology emergency admission at the Katutura State Hospital saw a large number of patients who came in with complaints of miscarriage or problems with pregnancies.

"Decriminalising abortion will not eradicate illegal termination of pregnancies but deaths will be extremely low when the laws are liberal," highlighted Emvula.

"That's what makes us different. We know the anatomy - and whenever we are doing procedures, we know what to avoid. An unskilled person is more prone to injuring other organs - and especially if you damage the intestines, that will be associated with severe life-threatening complications," he explained.

Emvula said blood compatibility is another issue that needs to be taken into consideration.

He also added that women who terminate pregnancies end up having depression due to the regrettable decision they have made.

Emvula said infections in women have also become prominent.

"If you have an infection, there's a potential that it can lead to blockage of your tubes - and if your tubes are blocked, there is a possibility of struggling to conceive in the future, especially if it is an unsafe termination," he said.

Emvula said some infections are so severe that women sometimes need to have their wombs removed - and that ultimately means they will not be able to bear children.

Costly

Emvula said treating complications of unsafe termination of pregnancy is expensive.

"It is very expensive; patients come very sick and go into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for several days. A bed in private practice is about N$3 800 per night - and with antibiotics, they are hospitalised for about five days or longer depending on the complication," he detailed.

Emvula said some would need to go to the theatre for cleaning. Drugs to put them to sleep cost money; "anaesthetic machines cost money," he said.

Obstetrics uses most blood when it comes to transfusion - and that is an extra cost.

Executive director in the health ministry Ben Nangombe said there is a need to review the abortion and sterilisation act so that it can speak to the prevailing realities, which should address the issue of sexual and reproductive health rights, including safe abortion services.

"The committee is aware that the law was inherited from the apartheid regime of South Africa at independence - and the law allows abortion in specific circumstances," he said.

Nangombe added: "What the public should take note of is that abortion or termination of pregnancy can be conducted legally in Namibia in certain circumstances. The only difference is that it is not to be provided on demand".

He said the health ministry's view is that the current legislation on abortion is outdated, which needs to be reviewed and enact new legislation to address the realities on the ground.

The chief legal officer within the justice ministry Christian Harris said the challenges Namibia faces in denying the right to abortion is that it signed many intentional human rights instruments without reservations.

"Namibia adhered to agree to all the provisions. Therefore, it will be under pressure to fulfil those obligations under the said instruments. If the Maputo Protocol [The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa] allows for abortion, and Namibia did not have any reservations on the right to abortion, by implications, it means that people can always claim that right," stated Harris.

He said even if Namibia was to agree to legalise abortion, some of the challenges would mostly be related to society, considering the country is conservative in nature.

"Abortion remains unpopular in certain quarters - mostly religious and traditionalists who view abortion as a taboo and some scholars have argued that it carries political risks," noted Harris.

These experts were presenting to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs, which is conducting four days of public hearings on the petitions to legalise or keep abortion against the law in Namibia.

Deputy health minister Esther Muinjangue in June last year motivated a motion on abortion in the National Assembly.

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