Uganda women unable to get contraception, dying from unsafe abortions

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 21 November 2013 09:30 GMT

A mother with her child rests in a classroom after she was displaced by floods caused by torrential rains in Kasese district, 440km southwest of the capital Kampala, on May 8, 2013. REUTERS/James Akena

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One in five pregnancies in Uganda is terminated in an unsafe abortion - with women inserting “whatever objects” or drinking bleach - while abortions account for one in four maternal deaths.

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Uganda has one of the world’s highest unmet needs for contraception, leading almost 300,000 women to seek backstreet abortions each year - with many dying as a result, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) said in a new report released on Wednesday.

With four out of 10 women not wanting to get pregnant - yet not using contraception - Uganda’s unmet need for family planning is the second highest in the world after Samoa, according to the United Nations. One in five pregnancies in Uganda is terminated in an unsafe abortion, while abortions account for one in four maternal deaths.

“Women use crude ways. They insert whatever objects, they take herbs, whatever, to force [the] foetus to come out,” Maureen, a maternal health advocate told CRR in its report on unsafe abortion and inadequate access to contraception in Uganda.

Other methods include sitting in a solution of detergent and drinking bleach, according to the report, which said an estimated 297,000 induced abortions occur in Uganda each year.

“The fact that communities, societies, and nations around the globe can stand aside and watch as numerous young, energetic, and productive women perish through circumstances that are completely preventable is despicable,” Charles Kiggundu, vice president of the Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Uganda, said in the report.

Maureen’s cousin, a university student, died after an unsafe abortion pierced her intestines. She went to hospital to seek help but was too scared to admit what she had done, instead telling doctors she was suffering from malaria. By the time the truth came out and she went into surgery, it was too late.


Most Ugandans believe abortion is a crime, although government guidelines permit it on physical and mental grounds.

“The perceived illegality of abortion services in Uganda has led to stigma, fear and secrecy - driving far too many women to desperate measures to end a pregnancy,” Evelyne Opondo, CRR’s regional director for Africa, said in a statement.

“Leaders in Uganda must not only clarify the abortion laws, but also broaden access to information among health care professionals and the public at large about reproductive health care, including access to family planning and safe abortion services.”

At the root of the problem is a lack of access to contraception.

In Uganda, women have six children on average, one of the highest fertility rates in the world. Only 30 percent of married Ugandan women of reproductive age use contraception, according to the government.


Women often face opposition from their husbands when they try to use contraception.

“If the man wants to have children, you have them,” Joyce, a mother of four, told CRR.

She secretly used the pill for six years before her husband found out.

“He didn’t want me to take the pills because [he said] they destroy a woman’s reproductive health,” she said.

“[He said they] also destroy their sexual urge. That’s what he told me and he gave me a thorough beating. He beat me very badly; all of my body was swollen.”

After that, he abandoned her to raise their children alone.

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