NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) –Women who fall dangerously ill after drinking disinfectant or using backstreet clinics to procure abortions occupy up to 40 percent of Kenya’s hospital beds, the Daily Nation reported on Friday.
Three years after a new Kenyan constitution made it legal to terminate a pregnancy when a woman’s life or health is at risk, it is still difficult to procure an abortion in a Kenyan public hospital, partly because of concern about the legality of each case.
As a result, the government estimates that 800 backstreet terminations are carried out every day, often with bicycle spokes, knitting needles, sticks and pens, leading to the deaths of thousands of women every year.
“The number of unsafe abortions is still high but it is under-reported. It is about 30 to 40 percent bed occupancy,” the paper quoted Monica Ogutu, executive director of the Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET), as telling a Kenya Medical Association (KMA) conference on the coast.
Many of the women admitted to hospitals are aged between 17 and 25 and have swallowed disinfectants or herbal concoctions to terminate pregnancies, she said, blaming the situation on the refusal of many Kenyan men to use contraception.
KMET is a charity that provides medical services and education in western Kenya.
MEN ‘A HUGE LET-DOWN’
Ogutu said the government needed to improve access to family planning and adopt policies that ensured women were able to procure safe abortions.
She also blamed men for refusing to use contraception.
“Men are a huge let-down” the paper quoted her as saying. “Some actually tell their women statements such as: ‘Contraceptives are for sex workers. I do not want to see those tablets in my house’ and these are women who no longer want to conceive.”
KMA secretary Lukoye Atwoli told the conference that pregnancy resulting from rape or incest was one of the main reasons Kenyan women became suicidal and depressed, the paper said.
High levels of sexual violence, poverty and limited access to family planning are responsible for the fact that 43 percent of pregnancies in Kenya are unwanted, according to previous research.
Kenya has an informal two-tier approach to abortions. Public hospitals are reluctant to carry them out because the penal code says that women who abort illegally can be jailed for seven years.
But rich and educated women routinely procure safe abortions in private hospitals, citing medical guidelines that allow termination in the interests a of woman’s mental or physical health.